Sunday, November 22, 2009

About the Afternoon Tea

A lovely guest asked where I came up with the recipes for the tea.  Normally start with "The Joy of Cooking" cookbook and/or the internet for the bones of a recipe, then flesh-out the recipe with my own ideas.  We really enjoy tea:  my husband loves the intricacies of tea itself; I like the pretty china, silver, decor, etc.  Items about the afternoon teas that I especially like were noted from the 100 we've attended.  Subscriptions to magazines such as Tea A Magazine and TeaTime widen horizons as well.

Our friends have tea sourced from around the globe through the business-traveling husband.  Yesterday's tea was to thank friends who'd hosted an amazing dinner in August.  Their house has great entertaining space, so we used it for the afternoon tea.  Last Sunday we hauled our Canton Famille Rose china collection there, set the table, and choose the teas from her collection.

Larry's Original Chai seemed like it would go well with the butternut squash soup I'd planned for the first course.

The butternut squash soup was served so we could use the Canton Cabbage and Butterfly compotes, and because of the unforgettable afternoon tea a year ago that started with the best butternut squash and apple soup imaginable.

Luckily this week's CSA included two small butternut squash, an acorn squash, Fuji apples and carrots.  Settled on this easy recipe: and used the strained pan broth from the turkey baked on Tuesday (a bottle of white wine, 100 ounces chicken stock with the turkey neck and vegetables; a virtual steam bath for the turkey) instead of the recipe's chicken stock.  The Fuji apples were not tart enough at the finish of the online recipe.  Tried to use items on-hand, squeezed in the juice of one clementine tangerine . . . not enough flavor, searched the spice drawer for pumpkin spice to no avail . . . Chinese five spice was the closest thing there, so a teaspoon was added . . . flavor still not right . . . pomegranate would add a pretty color as garnish and is tart.  About a 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice was added.  The flavor was where I wanted it, then a luxurious addition: 1/2 cup of cream.

Purposefully served relatively small servings of the rich butternut squash apple pomegranate soup topped with a swirl of creme fraiche, CSA bread-turned into mini croutons, and carefully chosen gem-like pomegranate seeds.

I hand count, and mix a Lucky-in-Love floral tea.  Inspecting the teas at our friends' home, a mystery tea appeared from China that resembled my Lucky in Love tea, so I called it T&T's Lucky in Love Tea in honor of our hosts.  Appropriately enough, they were given the tea on a business trip to China right after their wedding.  A guest deciphered the Chinese label on the package:  "Special Tea."

Tips for tea sandwiches:  1.) to keep sandwiches from getting dry, put the sandwiches on a well-wrung damp paper towel on a cookie sheet, then wrap with plastic wrap.  2.) lightly butter both inner sides of the bread with soft, room temperature butter to keep the bread from getting soggy or tearing the bread.  Recommend not serving more than 4 small tea sandwiches per person (roughly equal to one regular lunch sandwich) for a tea this size.

Inspiration for the sandwiches:  Turkey, Basil, Cream Cheese with Raisins came from the All Souls Day Tea a year ago (it may have come from TeaTime Magazine, which called for dried cranberries instead of raisins).  This is a tasty, terrific, and pretty tea sandwich.  A container of edible flowers for garnish came from Draeger's market in San Mateo.

Chicken Curry Salad on a Croissant came from a delicious salad served to honor junior high school teachers.  Originally the recipe came from church friends in the late 1960's or early 1970's.  My mom included the recipe in the cookbook she made her kids for Christmas 14 years ago.  It has grapes, celery and almonds--sweet, savory and crunchy.  The croissant idea came from croissants my brother's-in-law, in-laws make for Thanksgiving.  Used the canned type and made sure that the ends were brought together to make a circular-shaped croissant.  The sandwiches were topped with cilantro from this week's CSA box.

CSA eggs' freshness prevents the egg shells from coming off well when hard boiled.  Brown eggs from the market were used instead.  My husband likes pickles in his egg salad, so I added a little relish and mustard and grated the eggs for a nice consistency.  Turmeric was added for color and CSA dill for garnish.

The tomato and cucumber sandwich idea came from the Four Seasons Las Vegas afternoon tea (sideways, topped with a slice of pimento olive).  It was a good idea, as it combined two sandwiches I normally make.  Note: an easy open-faced tea sandwich--butter a slice of bread, cut using a fluted 2-2 1/2 inch round and top with a Roma tomato slice or cucumber slice, salt and pepper the tops.

On another business trip, our hosts sourced Sabah Ginger Tea from Borneo.  Sabah is a state on the South East Asian island of Borneo.

That wonderful afternoon tea a year ago had a great white chocolate and peppermint scone with candy cane cream (pictured right).  It was so fun to eat!  Our host at the time said she ordered soft peppermints online.  I bought a large tub of soft peppermints many months ago when seen for sale at a local pharmacy.  TeaTime Magazine had the recipe, but it called for peppermint chips (the kind from Andes?).  Went with crushed soft peppermints instead, as my former host mentioned.

Friday during an afternoon tea, with an English culture-loving friend, she commented, "American scones are dry, dense and crumbly.  I never had a dry scone in England."  That got me thinking.  This same friend brought me back a book from England "The Ritz London Book of Afternoon Tea."  Comparing the ingredients and quantities for the London scones versus the magazine recipe, there were differences.  I added in all the cream of tartar in the house, just under a tablespoon (to the doubled recipe prepared); increased the butter from 12 tablespoons to 16 tablespoons; used half cream, half buttermilk in place of the all buttermilk per the magazine recipe; and added 1/3 cup more liquid.  Tal-y-Tara in San Francisco gave this advice for scones:  keep all the ingredients very, very cold for light scones.  The scones went in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking.  While extremely tasty, the scones spread a bit in the oven.  Therefore, suggest cutting the butter down to 14 tablespoons and not adding the extra 1/3 cup liquid.  To keep the scones pretty for the party, while still warm a metal spatula cut off the extra beyond the original triangle shape.

Our male host put together homemade pomegranate sorbet for our palate cleanse (pictured above, right).  Pomegranates are great and they're really healthy.  The sorbet had a touch of lime, another favorite flavor.  The idea for the sorbet comes, again, from that lovely tea a year ago: three sorbets, over the top, in cute little shot glasses (pictured left).  Mom bought me similar shot glasses for a Christmas gift.

Since guests stayed at the tea from 3 to 8:30 p.m., after partially digesting the tea, we savored the second homemade sorbet.  The couple made a fresh CSA apple sorbet, too.  Both were beyond refreshing.

My husband made hot chocolate using whole milk, dark chocolate, Mexican chocolate and hazelnut chocolate; warmed and whisked in a pot.  Shortly before the tea began at 3 p.m., he melted chocolate to cover strawberries.  Our host made a CSA apple and raisin galette; plus crispy, buttery lavender shortbread (the only shortbread better than Walker's).

Friday, through pouring rain, drove to the Divine Delights retail outlet in Petaluma for gorgeous petit fours.  They were a bit less expensive than buying them online or in specialty markets.

Purchased a month ago, and froze TKOs (Thomas Keller Oreos) from Bouchon Bakery in Yountville.  The Oreo brownie recipe calls for a chocolate chip top: to spruce them up for a tea, Valrhona Crunchy Pearls were used instead.  Cut the the recipe by 2/3rds to make 8 small portions in decorative pans.  As an over-the-top addition, leftover Donnelly caramel was drizzled over the top of the TKO Brownies.

One last tip from Chic Chateau in San Jose, CA (didn't use for this tea, but have used in the past):  for the scone course, use the best strawberry jam one can find and stir in a little sparking wine.  It is a fun and festive touch.  There are many tiny things one can do to take tea in a full-pleasure manner.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thank You Afternoon Tea

I'm exhausted, for good reason.  We're home from an over 5 hour afternoon tea (after 15 hours of planning and preparing).  A set of friends have treated us very well.  To thank them, we set today (months ago) as a day to present them with an elaborate afternoon tea in their home.  I'll be brief with just the basic information, but will go into more detail at a later date.

1.)  Larry's Original Chai (famous in Felton, CA)
CSA Butternut Squash, CSA Acorn Squash, CSA Apple & Pomegranate Soup

2.)  T & T's "Lucky in Love" Tea
Tea Sandwiches:  Turkey, Chicken, Egg, & Cucumber/Tomato

3.)  Sabah Ginger Tea from Borneo
White Chocolate and Peppermint Scone with Candy Cane Cream

Pomegranate Sorbet

4.)  Three-Chocolate Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows
Lavender Shortbread, Divine Delights Petit Fours, TKO Brownies, Chocolate Covered CSA Strawberries, CSA Apple/Raisin Galette

Absolutely fabulous, and a lot of fun!  Worth the work, but not something one wants to do daily.