Gifts a Go-Go: Homemade Chai Tea Mix and So Much More

Zooming. That’s what it feels like right now. Zooming towards the holiday at record breaking speed. Here’s a little slideshow of what I’ve been doing the last two weeks instead of posting sooner!

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So you see, I really haven’t been ignoring anyone, just kinda busy…honestly. But then, who isn’t? So you deserve a new recipe and here it is.

I have a new gift item literally in the “mix” this year. It’s a wonderful smelling and tasting Chai Tea Mix to make and give to friends, or as a great hostess gift. It’s really an easy gift to put together, makes a seasonally colorful mixture and is endlessly customizable to suit your tastes. I’ve used a warming blend of spices that I’m particularly fond of, along with some fresh orange zest and candied ginger. Simply toast your spices, crush them to release their essence and toss with caffeinated or decaf black tea leaves and chopped candied ginger. Or you can try using an herbal tea leaf of your choice—the experimenting is up to you. I like to tie on a pretty little tea ball for brewing, or some tea bags to be filled as desired by the recipient. Here are the steps and recipe, and you can click on any image for a step by step slideshow.

Chai Tea Mix
Makes 4 pint jars full, about 12 cups of tea per jar

56 green cardamom pods, split in half with sharp knife, use pods and seeds
2 teaspoons whole red peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
4 Tablespoons whole fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
9 – 5 inch cinnamon sticks
4 teaspoons fresh orange zest, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped candied ginger
2 cups loose leaf black tea, I used English Breakfast

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cardamom pods and seeds, red peppercorns, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange zest into two pie tins or on a cookie sheet, and toast them in the oven until they become fragrant and lightly toasted, about 5-8 minutes. Watch them carefully after 5 minutes. Remove the spices from the oven. Crush the cinnamon stick with a mortar and pestle or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, until you have small bits but not powder, and add to a large mixing bowl. Lightly crush the remaining spices to release their essence either by mortar and pestle or rolling pin…again, you don’t want powder, just smaller pieces. Add the spices to the cinnamon, along with the candied ginger and tea, and mix well to blend. Transfer the tea mix to your jars or decorative bags.

Directions: To brew one cup of tea (and I put these brewing instructions on my tags on the jars), place one heaping tablespoon of the mix into a tea ball or empty tea bag (these can be purchased at cooking specialty stores or online, or you can make them out of coffee filters), and place into a mug. Add 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. Add warm milk (about 1/4 cup or to taste to start) then sweeten with sugar or honey, if desired. Enjoy!


I’ll have some more great gift ideas and new items before the big holiday, at which point I will take a rest for a week to enjoy the season and spend time with family and friends.

In the mean time, please check out these links below to find the recipes for items in the slideshow that I’ve made already, and for more food gift ideas that I’ve made and previously posted on this blog. And be sure to take the time to have a cup of tea, de-stress and enjoy the season.

These are a classic!

These are a classic!

Drop Sugar Cookies and

IMG_20111224_170012_edit0Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies
are two old tried and true recipes I love.

Then I had to make some of those addictive red pepper and fennel glazed almonds.

Then I had to make some of those addictive red pepper and fennel glazed almonds.

Red Pepper and Fennel Glazed Almonds

biscottiA-1Chocolate, Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti
(If I make nothing else, I make these every year and I’d be in the doghouse if I didn’t!)

wholeplateRetro Cheese Olive Bites
These are great to make ahead and freeze and so are the
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricots and Pistachios!

bottles2Cranberry Liqueur

olives4Provençal Olives

All dressed up and ready to give!

All dressed up and ready to give!

Walnut Thyme Honey

Maamool 4Ma’amool Cookies 



Quick Loaf: Cranberry Apple Walnut Bread

Eating a slice of this is a happy way to start the day!

Eating a slice of this is a happy way to start, or end, your day!

For many, many years I used to run up to the local health food store and get one of their delicious muffins…well, maybe more than one…to have for my breakfast. They made a few different kinds, but the one I loved the best featured fresh cranberries, apples and walnuts in a dense, moist muffin that had some underlying spice to it. I became addicted.

Some years ago the health food grocery closed their little deli section and changed over to a deli case, one which unfortunately meant the end to those muffins. But I remember them so well, and I’ve always wanted to recreate them.

This is a very close representation of those flavors. It’s not a muffin, though you could certainly make some muffins out of this recipe. It does feature fresh cranberries, which I happen to have a lot of in my freezer at the moment. But if you can’t get them right now or at all, by all means substitute another cup of apple or some pear for the cranberries, perhaps in small chunks for contrasting texture to the grated apple. Or better yet, feel free to experiment and try your own favorite berry or fruit that you think goes well with apple.

I particularly enjoy the contrasting tart pop of fresh cranberry in your mouth against the mildly sweet background of the apple and walnut in this bread. This loaf isn’t an overly sweet thing…in fact I would venture to say it’s a pretty healthy entry into the quick bread category. But it does make a perfect slice for breakfast, and even has just enough sweetness for dessert, in my opinion!

Cranberry Apple Walnut Bread
Makes 1 loaf

3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 (generous) teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups grated Pink Lady apple (or other baking apple) with skin (about 2 medium apples)
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/3 cup low fat milk
1 cup fresh cranberries, whole
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease one standard loaf pan with unsalted butter and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the wheat flour, the white flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. In another large bowl, beat the sugar and the butter together with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended, then add the egg and beat until combined. On low speed, add the grated apple, dry flour mixture and the milk in about 3 alternating batches to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating each ingredient until just incorporated, do not over beat. Gently stir in the cranberries and walnuts with a spatula or spoon, then transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 55 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, the loaf is shrinking from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 15 minutes on a wire rack, then turn the loaf out of the pan and allow it to cool on the rack until just warm or at room temp. Cut into slices and serve. This makes a great gift, too!