“Sweetheart and Roses” Valentine Tea

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So, it’s Valentine’s Day – the day of all things sweet.  This year, I decided to host an afternoon tea to commemorate the special day.  As I soon discovered after just a wee bit of research, there is more than one kind of afternoon tea.  There are Cream Teas where tea, scones, jam, and cream are served.  There are Light Teas where you are likely to find sweets served along with tea and scones.  Then, there are Savory Teas where you might find such tasty temptations as tiny sandwiches (crusts removed, of course), small quiches, or appetizers on the menu….and you get the idea.  Teas can be relatively simplistic or they can be lavishly elaborate.

To my knowledge, on PEI in winter, we don’t have any hotels or restaurants that offer a traditional full-scale formal afternoon tea.  In the summer season, the Dalvay-By-The-Sea Hotel on PEI’s North Shore, Mrs. Profitt’s Tea Room in the Orient Hotel in Victoria-By-The-Sea on the Island’s South Shore, and the Blue Winds Tea Room in Clinton, near New London, offer tea service.  I’m not sure why this niche has largely escaped the Island but, from my afternoon tea experiences elsewhere while travelling – most notably at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, at different hotels in London, England, and on several cruise ships, it’s a very charming and relaxing way to while away an afternoon.

For my “Sweetheart and Roses Valentine’s Tea”, I chose a pink theme (still a little tired of all the red from Christmas!) and I sort of crossed a Light Tea with a Savory Tea.  The appointed hour was 4:30pm.

Valentine’s Afternoon Tea

On the Menu:  Currant scones and tea biscuits with raspberry jam, small quiches followed by a selection of dainty sweets that included French macaroons, melting moments, shortbread, squares, decorated sugar cookies, and Linzer cookies.  For dessert, I served a vanilla layer cake covered in buttercream icing swirled in a rose design.  For my tea selection, I chose Stash English Breakfast.  While that may sound odd to have a “breakfast” tea in the afternoon, it is my favourite kind of tea so that’s what I went with.  I set the table with a white Irish linen tablecloth and my finest China (including lots of tiered and pedestal plates) and we were off to enjoy our Valentine’s Day Afternoon Tea.

“Sweetheart and Roses Valentine’s Tea”

Valentine’s Day is all about spending time with the people who mean the most to you.  It’s less important the big bouquets of red roses, the Valentine-themed boxes of chocolates, or teddy bears carrying hearts or any of a myriad of other commercial and material gifts than it is spending time together.  So, whatever your Valentine’s Day carries for you, I wish you the time well spent and enjoyed with your favourite people.  Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Afternoon Tea on a Cold Winter Day

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There is just something especially comforting about a warm cup of tea accompanied by fresh currant scones straight out of the oven.  And, of course, it’s made all the better when the tea is served in a china cup and saucer!  Is there anything more relaxing after a busy day than to sit down late in the afternoon and recharge the batteries while enjoying a cup of tea in front of the fireplace!

Afternoon Tea with Currant Scones

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

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I have discovered a real nifty little gadget to add to my collection.  It’s called the “Last Drop Spatula/Scraper”.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

 

This long, slender, tiny spatula has two sizes of small silicone heads that allow you to reach to the bottom of narrow-necked bottles and containers such as mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, barbeque sauce, etc.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

 

 

 

 

It used to be so frustrating trying to get to the bottom of these jars that I often ended up throwing out product.  I was so impressed with the gadget that I bought a second one today at The Kitchen Store in the Confederation Court Mall in Charlottetown, PEI, to use specifically for body lotion jars.  For only $3.50, this is a dandy little tool.

Last Drop Spatula/Scraper

Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce

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It’s a cold day (-12C) in Prince Edward Island today.  The après-Christmas period always leaves me still craving comfort foods that have spices.

One of my favorite wintertime desserts is Sticky Date Pudding, the recipe for which, locally, is often associated with the prestigious Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel located just inside the National Park in Dalvay, on Prince Edward Island’s North Shore.

 

Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel, Dalvay, Prince Edward Island

The iconic Dalvay estate was built as a private summer seaside residence in 1895 for Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy businessman and one-time president of the Standard Oil Company.  The estate was reportedly named after MacDonald’s boyhood home in Scotland.  Dalvay was later sold to the government and private entrepreneurs now operate the hotel and restaurant seasonally.  It has been operated as a hotel since 1959.

The exterior of this hotel was also portrayed as the “White Sands Hotel” in the famous  “Road to Avonlea” TV series a number of years ago.  In the summer of 2011, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel grounds were the setting for a large event during the visit of Prince William and Catherine Middleton to PEI.

Those who have dined at the hotel’s restaurant will, no doubt, know about the Dalvay’s signature dessert – Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce.  There are many recipes to be found, each claiming to be the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Sticky Date Pudding recipe.  The one I use is the one that the hotel provided to our local CBC supper hour news show on PEI —  “Compass” —  in their “Summer Eats – Signature Dishes” segment in August 2006

Now, Dalvay did not invent the pudding.  Rather, it is believed that its origins can be traced back to England somewhere around the early 1900s when, reportedly, a landlady of a local inn invented it for sale in her pub.  Regardless the inventor I, for one, am truly grateful for this cozy comfort food.  I don’t know why but I always tend to associate this dessert as a wintertime food; however, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel only operates during the summer season so that’s when it is served there.  The moral of the story is that Sticky Date Pudding is good any time of the year!

The interesting thing about Sticky Date Pudding is that its ingredients are simple and basic and don’t take any hard-to-find or expensive ingredients or those that most of us cooks would be unlikely to have as staples in our cupboards.  As its name suggests, dates are the primary ingredient in the pudding.  The only spice on the ingredient list is ground ginger and you can alter the amount to suit your own personal taste.  I don’t use a full tablespoon of ginger, as the recipe calls for, when I make the pudding.   It’s an easy dessert to make and the method of preparation is not difficult.

What keeps this pudding nice and moist is that it is baked in a hot water bath in the oven.  The warmth and constant steady heat of the hot water against the baking pan containing the ingredients acts as an insulator for the pudding and prevents it from baking too quickly and drying out, cracking on the top, or burning on the bottom.  Combined with the steam generated in the oven from the water, this provides just the right environment for the pudding to bake nicely and evenly.

Sticky Date Pudding Batter

 

While the recipe calls for the pudding to be baked in one pan, I often divide the batter into small ramekins and place them in a pan of hot water for baking.  Puddings made in the small round dishes look especially nice for presentation when turned out onto a dessert plate and drizzled with the Toffee Sauce.

Baked Sticky Date Pudding

 

 

 

 

 

Serve the pudding warm and, if you wish, add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of your favourite vanilla ice cream.  This pudding freezes well and is a staple in my freezer every winter.  To reheat, I simply thaw the pudding and heat for a few seconds in the microwave and make a batch of the Toffee Sauce.  Enjoy!

Sticky Date Pudding Served with Toffee Sauce

SMELTS – A Prince Edward Island Winter Meal

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Growing up on PEI, it was customary in our home to always have a “feed” of smelt fish sometime during the winter.

Smelts are a winter catch and, therefore, a winter meal in many households on PEI.  Sport fishers set up camp on the frozen waterways around the Island.  By setting up camp, I mean they haul little buildings, locally referred to as “smelt shacks” out onto the ice.  It is from the ‘comfort’ of these tiny rustic shelters that they fish for smelts, typically using spears or nets, to catch the tiny fish below the ice surface.  Smelts, in general, measure about 5 ”- 7” long.  The picture below was taken of a smelt shack community in Summerside, PEI.

Smelt Shacks, Summerside, PEI

 

Smelts

I am making an effort to honor my self-imposed commitment of trying one new recipe or dish a week for 2012.  So, when I saw fresh smelts at the local supermarket, I decided a “feed” was in order; I figured this would qualify for a new recipe because I had never actually cooked them before.  When my Mom cooked the smelts, she would simply dip and coat the cleaned fish in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and pan fry them in butter or oil.  Smelts were usually served in our house with homemade bread and butter although some would also serve potatoes boiled in their jackets.

 

I decided to jazz up the breading a bit so I mixed some spices into the flour for dredging the smelts. I added a bit of garlic and onion powders along with a smidgeon of cayenne pepper and dried mustard.  The smelts were fried in olive oil and I served them with seasoned oven-roasted potato wedges and homemade mustard pickles.

My Island Bistro Kitchen Launches New Website

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My Island Bistro Kitchen has launched its new website today.

(Mostly) PEI and Maritime Food – Good Food for a Good Life!