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spicy chai concentrate + holiday warmth


Aside from the odd book or kitchen do-dad here and there, I am a homemade gifts kinda girl to the hilt. I have everything I need in life, but some lovely homemade granola? Or preserves and rustic pickles from your garden perhaps? A pair of chunky-knit mittens with a home-screened tea towel? All of those kinds of things warm my heart and make me feel pretty alright with the world. You know what else does? A big, hot cup of dreamy spicy chai on cold and bright winter mornings in Ontario.

So in the spirit of the season and wanting to share those warm and lovely feelings with some friends, I made up a batch of really simple chai concentrate. The flavour is leaps and bounds away in deliciousness from the stuff you can buy at coffee shops (which costs more money than anyone should ever have to pay for tea, sugar and spices). Plus! You can mix it with whiskey if you fancy a spicy little hot toddy on a brisk evening. How many coffee shops can do that?

I will definitely recommend that you use some loose leaf tea from a local purveyor of fine quality for this. The taste will always be better because there’s a greater quantity of actual whole leaves (not dusty, icky leftovers) and the freshness can’t be beat. I love to use assam tea here. It’s a variety of black tea from India that has a typically rich and malty flavour profile that stands up to the spices and tangy citrus flavours quite well. A particularly good varietiy from my favourite teashop ever can be ordered here.

Happy sipping and warmest holiday wishes,
Laura :)


spicy chai concentrate with an orange twist
serves: makes about 2 litres or 16 one cup servings once mixed
notes: Try to remove most of the white pith from the orange peel to avoid bitterness. Also, this isn’t limited to beverages! A little dab with some steel cut oatmeal would be delicious.

9 cups filtered water
1 orange, peel removed in large strips (save the fruit for a snack)
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cinnamon sticks (the big ones)
3 star anise
5 whole cloves
10 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
a few twists of black pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp black loose leaf tea (try rooibos for a caffeine-free version)
2/3 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Once boiling, turn off the heat and add orange peel strips, ginger, spices and tea leaves. Steep this mixture for 10 to 15 minutes depending on how strong you want it.

Strain the steeped tea into a large bowl or pitcher. Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Allow the concentrate to cool completely before pouring into clean mason jars/other container of your choosing.

When heating with non alcoholic liquids, use concentrate in a 1:1 ratio (ie with hot milk, cider, other juice etc). Using booze? Totally your call!

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Michelle20/12/2011 - 10:38 pm

This. looks. amazing. Chai is the best!

Kelsey21/12/2011 - 11:17 am

Mmm, this sounds perfect. I’m with you. A hug and some good salt is the best kind of gift, to me. Happy Holidays, friend.

shelley21/12/2011 - 6:59 pm

Laura – This looks amazing. I love chai! After the holidays, when things slow down a bit, I will have to try this. Homemade is always better than anything mass produced for a coffee house! Thank you for the recipe. Have a wonderful holiday season! XO

Bhakti29/12/2011 - 11:07 am

Hi,
What an interesting recepie to come my way…. was looking for a change in my chai. Will def try it soon :)
Thanks!!!

Genevieve04/01/2012 - 10:50 pm

I love chai lattes, but I’ve never made my own from scratch…this is a great homemade gift idea, and I love the spice tree too :)
Just wanted to let you know as well that I included your lovely blog in my nominations for the Liebster Award http://www.vanilla-and-spice.com/2012/01/new-years-eve-asian-feast-liebster.html

[...] with caffeine for good measure. This could be easy enough to produce at home with a batch of homemade chai concentrate, some strong coffee and the milk of your choice. Heat it all up together and get [...]

Cookie and Kate07/10/2012 - 11:03 pm

I am so excited that you linked to this post. Trying this asap.

Shelley27/11/2012 - 7:26 pm

hi! do you know if this would last at room temperature or in the fridge, and for how long? I would like to make these as gifts this year.

Laura27/11/2012 - 8:37 pm

Hi Shelley,
You could keep the mix sealed in the fridge for 2 weeks. Hope that helps!
-L

[…] the ginger. Promise. Or if you still want chai but don’t want to take all the time, Laura has a fantastic chai concentrate that comes together […]

sweet and sour roasted cauliflower + cellar vegetables


Cauliflower is one of those more economically efficient and deeply satisfying cold weather vegetables, in the league of root veggies, onions and alliums, various other crucifers and tubers. Cellar vegetables. Stick to your ribs fare. I find, like most other winter veggies, the method of preparation is really important when you want to make it appealing. I could eat cauliflower roasted at a high temperature every day in the cold months with just a pinch of salt and pepper. Seriously. It gets all toasty, a bit crunchy and it develops some lovely colouring, ranging from pale golden brown to almost black little flecks on the edges. It’s beautiful and crazy affordable.

I do enjoy some of the more gourmet items here and there, maybe when I’m out or I’ve received a nice gift from a friend or something. A dab of truffle oil is sometimes appropriate, high quality vanilla extract is a generous gift to be sure or some rare heirloom vegetable variety at the farmer’s market is usually too cool to pass up. But all things considered, I mostly love turning a humble and unassuming vegetable into something delicious and hearty. I appreciate accessible food and what it means to others to try and make the most of it. The best way to eat and live well is to cook and share that wealth with everyone you know.

So I’ve taken a basic roasting method and classed it up a teeny bit with some add ins that you combine the beautifully browned cauliflower with: sweet chopped dates, briny green olives, a sour squeeze of lemon, earthy thyme and crunchy little sesame seeds. I was trying to evoke a bit of a za’atar flavour, thinking it would be a good match for the robust cauliflower. The sesame seeds hug the cauliflower as it roasts and a nice dusting of parsley flecks makes it colourful. I’m so grateful to still have parsley in the garden, a vibrant, nutritious and green patch sticking out of the mud and browned leaves. Great proof that with a little mindful tending and effort comes deeply nourishing results.


sesame and lemon roasted cauliflower with dates & olives
serves: 4
notes: Feel free to squeeze the lemon on top after, but I kind of like the slightly more caramelized flavour it develops throughout the roasting.

1 small to medium head of cauliflower, cored and cut into medium-sized florets
2 tbsp raw sesame seeds
1 sprig of thyme, leaves removed and chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried)
2 tbsp grape seed oil
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
3-4 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 sprigs of parsley, leaves removed and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the cauliflower florets in a medium sized bowl with the sesame seeds, thyme, grape seed oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Dump the bowl onto a parchment lined baking sheet, making sure to scrape out all of the little sesame seeds.

Roast cauliflower for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown and tender. Stir mixture a couple times throughout the roasting to avoid burnt sesame seeds.

Once removed from the oven, toss hot cauliflower with chopped dates, olives and parsley. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.

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[...] Sweet and Sour Roasted Cauliflower – I’m a big fan of the sweet and salty combination, and I love the unlikely combination of the salty olives and sweet dates in this recipe. Seems like a really festive and flavorful side dish. Will be trying soon! [...]

Lysa23/01/2012 - 8:51 pm

This is a beautiful recipe, Thanks for sharing!!

[...] chickpea pancakes, one must make some veggies to roll up inside of them. I’ve been eyeing Laura’s Sesame and Lemon Roasted Cauliflower with Dates and Olives since she first published the post a bit less than two months ago, falling in love with the idea [...]

festive brussels sprouts + pomegranate seeds

There’s something about pomegranates and their tiny fuschia, jewel-like seeds that is so undeniably festive. They shine and sparkle so beautifully wherever they land. There is also something so inherently frustrating about their construction, webs of honeycomb-ish pithy rind gripping onto those gorgeous seeds for dear life, spattering hot pink juice everywhere when you try to extract them. In recent years I’ve figured out how to go about deseeding those iconic pink fruits without making a giant mess. Just a little plunge in some water, a cut here and there and voila! Instant glamour on everything: salads, granola, yogurt and more importantly, roasted brussels sprouts. Oh yes.

The tart juiciness of the pomegranate seeds is a nice match for the strong, cabbage-y flavour of the roasted brussels sprouts. Add some toasted hazelnuts, lime zest and juice to the mix and you’ve got yourself a lovely and incredibly easy holiday side dish. Although I’d say it’s perfectly appropriate to enjoy throughout all of the cooler months.

We never really grew up eating much of these cruciferous veggies. Any exposure I’ve had to them up until recently was in a rather blah and mushy steamed/boiled format. The first time I tried them roasted I was totally sold. Nice little salty crust on the outside contrasts the slightly tender leaves within just right. Aside from this method, it’s the only way I can really, sincerely enjoy them. I’ve specified a 1/4 cup of the pomegranate seeds. Now I know you’ll never find such a fruit that contains that amount, but here’s some lovely ideas from around the internets to use up those extras:

Pomegranate, Kale & Pearl Onion Orzo from Happyolks
Chick Pea and Lentil Curry with Pomegranate from Cook Republic
Poppy Seed Crusted Butternut Squash with Kale and Pomegranates from My New Roots

festive brussels sprouts with hazelnuts and pomegranate
serves: 4
notes: Wanna know the best way to de-seed a pomegranate? Look right here.

1 lb (454g) brussels sprouts, outer leaves trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 tbsp grape seed oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (or arils, if you will)
zest and juice of 1 lime

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the halved brussels sprouts in the oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Place on a lined sheet pan or oven-safe baking dish and roast for 20 minutes, tossing at the 10 minute point.

While brussels sprouts are roasting, place hazelnuts on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast in the same oven for about 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off of the hazelnuts, chop them roughly and set aside.

Remove brussels sprouts from the oven and toss with the chopped hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds, lime zest and juice. Serve immediately.


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Kelsey12/12/2011 - 2:22 pm

I have tried so many ways to prepare brussel sprouts… I must say, it’s been a tough sell over the years. I love the lime and the texture from the nuts and pom seeds though – I will certainly give it a go. Thanks for linking :)

Char @ www.charskitchen.ca12/12/2011 - 2:39 pm

Omg, I love brussels sprouts! I eat ‘em every day :) I love the sound of a sweet/crunchy combo with the pomegranate and hazelnuts! And they look so festive

Sian12/12/2011 - 4:57 pm

These look great. I may well be using the idea on the big day.

janet @ the taste space12/12/2011 - 7:15 pm

I recently had Brussels sprouts for the first time and loved them.. this is what I am doing when I buy them next. :)

Chelsea15/12/2011 - 9:39 pm

I made this recipe last night and it was absolutely delicious. The tip for getting all those pomegranate seeds out was a huge help. :) I had leftovers today for lunch and decided to add some avocado chunks in – it was a great combination!

Yolanda14/01/2012 - 3:14 pm

What an amazing recipe and what a great site I have just discovered. I am going to cook this salad tomorrow, blog it and have a link to your wonderful, delicious site. I am drooling :)

Yolanda16/01/2012 - 5:43 am

My take on Festive Brussels. http://lemonlovenotes.blogspot.com/2012/01/brussels-sprouts-salad-w-walnuts-zataar.html
Thank you for the inspiration. It was an amazing salad. love xoxo

Alyssa27/01/2012 - 11:06 pm

I just made this recipe tossed with coconut quinoa, and it was SO good. Your photos are beautiful and I adore all your healthy recipes! The pomegranate seeds added the perfect amount of sweetness. This is definitely a new favorite!

Laura28/01/2012 - 8:49 am

So glad you liked it, Alyssa. Love that you added quinoa too :)

[...] The second source was via Laura from The First Mess who wrote about her incredibly festive combo of brussels sprouts and pomegranates. Inspired, I decided to have a go at making something that was more than a side and this is what I [...]

[...] The second source was via Laura from The First Mess who wrote about her incredibly festive combo of brussels sprouts and pomegranates. Inspired, I decided to have a go at making something that was more than a side and this is what I [...]

Jeanie14/12/2013 - 10:45 pm

Made these tonight and loved them. It was a very simple dish, I had nearly all of the ingredients on hand, and it was festive to boot. People went back for seconds. Thanks for your wonderful recipes, they have never failed me.

[…] Festive Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate Seeds: view the full recipe and images here […]