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Tea for two

On Mother's Day, slow down and share a pot of tea and a few nibbles with Mom.

Published May 10, 2006

[Times photo: Patty Yablonski]

Several years ago, for a fancy party for my son's first-grade class, I made lovely little tea sandwiches, crustless of course.

The wee ones ate peanut butter sandwiches with pinkies held high, but I saved the goat cheese and chive versions for the adults who would appreciate them. And they did, especially with tea poured from decorative pots.

Tea parties are restorative pick-me-ups, be they afternoon English affairs, Japanese ceremonial fetes or a young child's fancy with imaginary drink and mud pies. They make us feel good and oh so civilized.

On Mother's Day, which is Sunday, share a pot of tea and a few savory nibbles with your Mom. Don't forget a simple dessert that includes luscious and light fruit: a trifle, a tart or wafer-thin tuiles with fresh berries. You might look to a bakery for help with these sweets. The party can be at your place or hers, but make it pretty with good china. Take advantage of the time it takes the tea to steep to talk. Plus if you've made everything ahead, you'll have more time for the woman you're honoring.

The communal nature of the teapot invites coziness and begs the world to slow down, a concept that's getting more and more foreign to us. Tea doesn't have quite the get-it-and-go reputation as coffee.

Making tea

For this occasion, a mug with a tea bag won't do at all. If you want to use tea bags, at least put them in a tea pot, and make sure you take them out as soon as the tea reaches the desired strength. You'll need plenty of sugar and cream to cut the bitterness of tea bags steeped too long.

The art of making tea has long been studied and debated, though most aficionados say loose tea is more flavorful than the finely chopped leaves in the bags. Even at the most basic level, good tea is not difficult to master.

When using loose tea, allow for 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of water. The leaves can be added to the pot or put in an infuser. If they are loose, you need to strain the liquid as it goes into the cup to hold back the little bits. (For tea bags, suggests 1 for every 1 to 2 cups water, depending on preference.)

The other trick to making delicious tea is to warm your teapot with very hot tap water for a few minutes before adding tea and boiling water. This keeps the tea warm longer and also helps prevent cracking when boiling water is added. Obviously, dump out the warm water before adding the hot.

What kind of tea? Wander the tea/coffee aisle at the grocery store for ideas but it's best to keep it basic, black tea for instance, unless your Mom has a thing for Earl Grey or English breakfast. Make a pot or two before Sunday to test your teamaking skills.

And do buy real cream and sugar cubes. She can have one lump or two, or even a packet of Splenda if that's what she prefers.

Little bites

The first thing you need to know about tea sandwiches is that they have no crusts. That makes them fancy, especially if you lightly coat the edges with butter and dip in minced parsley.

Secondly, you can make them simply with the help of prepared salads from a deli. Egg or chicken salad would do nicely between slices of thin Pepperidge Farm white bread. How about cashew butter and honey with the edges dipped in finely chopped cashews?

Gently cut off crusts with serrated knife after sandwiches have been assembled.

If you want to go classic, pair thinly sliced cucumber with a mint-butter-cream cheese mixture. Peppery watercress brightens paper-thin slices of Serrano ham or prosciutto. Goat cheese and chives work well together, sort of a heat-and-tang thing. Herbed Vidalia Onion Tea Sandwiches would be just as good with evening cocktails as afternoon tea. Imagine them with a martini.

These delightful sandwiches bring more to the party than you'd think. They don't holler "good times" like a meatball sub, but in their own quiet way they satisfy. Their simplicity is their beauty.

Your mother will love them because they are small and not too filling.

Something sweet

End the repast with a sweet something. It can be as simple as pound cake with whipped cream and berries or as involved as a fruit tart. Angel food cake, which is greatly desired by those watching fat intake because it has none, is also a good foil for sauce or fruit.

Sauces can be made with frozen fruit, which gives you a variety of possibilities when cherries, rhubarb or other fruits are not in season. For each 10 ounces of fruit, add 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch and enough water to equal two cups. Heat in saucepan over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens. Use hot or cold.

(Fruit sauce is a good stand-in for syrup on pancakes and waffles.)

Consider making a cream cheese and fruit tart using refrigerated sugar cookie dough as the base, sometimes known as a fruit pizza. You can top it with any fresh fruit in season.

Even a selection of dainty cookies would be a nice ending to an afternoon with your mother.

Pinky up, Mom. It's time for a spot of tea.


Herbed Vidalia Onion Tea Sandwiches

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves

Fresh lemon juice to taste

Tabasco to taste

12 very thin slices of white sandwich bread

1 Vidalia onion (or other sweet variety such as Oso), sliced very thin


In a small bowl stir together the mayonnaise, 1/4 cup of the parsley, tarragon, lemon juice, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste. Spread one side of the bread slices with the mayonnaise mixture, arrange the onion slices evenly on half the bread slices, and top them with the remaining bread slices. Press the sandwiches together gently, trim the crusts, and cut the sandwiches into quarters. Put the remaining 1/4 cup parsley in a shallow bowl and dip the edges of the sandwich quarters in the parsley.

Makes 24 quarters.

Source: "Gourmet", May 1992



Cucumber Mint Tea Sandwiches

1/2 cucumber (seedless if you can find it), peeled and very thinly sliced (about 32 slices)

1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, rinsed, spun dry and chopped fine

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature

16 slices thin white sandwich bread

Salt to taste

Place cucumber slices between layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture.

In a small bowl, combine mint, butter and cream cheese; spread on one side of each slice of bread. Lay cucumber slices onto the buttered side of 8 slices of bread. Sprinkle with salt. Top with the remaining slices of bread, buttered side down.

Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a sharp knife. Cut the sandwiches in half diagonally and then cut in half again.

Makes 16 halves.


Goat Cheese and Chive Tea Sandwiches

8 ounces goat cheese

24 slices of thin white sandwich bread

1 medium bunch of watercress leaves, enough to make about 2 lightly packed cups

2 bunches fresh chives, finely snipped to make 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Spread the goat cheese liberally on all of the bread slices. Arrange the watercress leaves in an even layer on 12 of the bread slices. Top each of the slices with a second slice of bread, goat cheese side down. Cut off the crusts and halve each sandwich on the diagonal.

Place the chives in a small shallow bowl. Using a small spatula, carefully spread mayonnaise along the long side of one tea sandwich, and then dip this long edge in the chopped chives. Repeat with each tea sandwich.

Note: For a less fussy presentation, mix the snipped chives with the goat cheese and spread the mayonnaise on the bread.

Makes 24 halves.

Source: "Martha Stewart's Hors D'Oeuvres Handbook" (Potter, 1999)



Sugar Cookie Fruit Tart

1 (18-ounce) package refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

11/2 cups fruit (berries, sliced kiwi, peaches or strawberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and side of 9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom and press cookie dough evenly into prepared pan. Or press cookie dough into greased baking sheet to measure 8-inch circle.

Bake for 22 to 27 minutes or until lightly golden and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth. Spread evenly over cooled cookie crust to within 1/2 inch of edge.

Arrange fruit as desired on top of cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove rim of pan if using a tart pan; slice into wedges.

Makes 10 servings.

Source: Nestle


Janet K. Keeler can be reached at (727) 893-8586 or Her blog, Stir Crazy, is at www.sptimes. com/blogs/food.

[Last modified May 10, 2006, 06:20:31]

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