Do all those shots of Britain during Olympics-watching have you yearning for a taste of the old country?
Start with afternoon tea.
The ritual of pausing to relax, talk and sip tea along with a few sweet and savory treats is a fun and elegant event. Here's the how-to for brewing up a splendid party.
First, know that we think an afternoon iced tea party in Texas is the way to go, but the Brits would think it's positively gauche. So if you want to be authentic and take tea like the queen does, heed these tips.
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Hosting an afternoon tea, 2-4 p.m. or 3-5 p.m., is the perfect occasion for utilizing the dishes and linens we seem to collect but seldom actually use. Bring out your assorted cups and saucers so each guest can select her favorite for tea.
A white or chintz cloth can cover the table laden with silver trays or china platters filled with tempting treats. A tiered server might be helpful because it takes up less space.
An afternoon tea, a snack time really, includes savories, breads and sweets. Tea sandwiches, bite-size quiches or sausage wrapped in pastry start the palate with a little sustenance. Tea sandwiches are prepared with thinly sliced breads and, of course, no crusts. Cream cheese with cucumber slices is a conventional choice.
Scones and toasted English muffins provide a palette on which to spread goodies like fruited jams, citrus marmalades, clotted cream and butter.
A festive cake, a tart or cookies complement the fragrant hot tea. Prepackaged shortbread tartlet shells filled with lemon curd and topped with a fresh strawberry is one refreshing idea. End your celebration with a chocolate truffle.
Now, about the tea: Traditionally, only loose tea would be prepared for a formal tea party, but convenient tea bags are "completely forgivable" today, even in England, says Sheela Kadam, owner of The British Emporium in Grapevine. Two or three varieties of tea brewed in their own teapots should appeal to most tastes. Queen Elizabeth II prefers Earl Grey tea, writes Darren McGrady, Plano-based former chef to the royal family and author of Eating Royally.
Hot tea tastes best steeped immediately before drinking. Twinings of London Tea Co. suggests warming your china and porcelain teapots with a little hot water poured out before the actual brewing. Heat fresh water in a kettle until fully boiling. Immediately pour the water over three or four tea bags in the pot. Black tea should steep for about three to five minutes, green tea for two to three minutes. If each guest steeps her own tea in her cup, a separate bowl should be provided for the wet tea bag; it is too messy to place on the saucer.
Accompaniments for tea -- milk (not cream), thin lemon slices and sugar cubes -- can be presented elegantly on the table. A Brit-tip? The lemon and milk are never combined in the same cup. It is not necessary to squeeze a lemon when adding to a hot drink.
Ham and pimento tea sandwiches
This is a variation of a tea sandwich with a truly Southern twist. Roasted red peppers in jars are usually found in grocery stores with the pickles or canned vegetables.
1 loaf of pumpernickel cocktail bread (like Rubschlager bread, about 2 by 2 inches)
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 roasted red peppers, fresh or canned (if canned, pat dry)
4 ounces cream cheese
2 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 pound ham -- good quality, sliced thinly
Chives for garnish, finely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees or use toaster oven. Remove crust from bread and cut to desired shape (square, rectangle or round cutters).
2. Place the bread on a baking sheet and lightly toast in oven 5-7 minutes until crisped. Let cool.
3. In a food processor with the chopper attachment, add garlic clove and red peppers. Pulse the machine until almost pureed.
4. Add cream cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper and pulse until combined and smooth.
5. Finally, add cheddar cheese and pulse until just combined, being careful not to over-mix. Set aside.
6. Spread pepper spread over toasted bread. (Tip: Spread from the center to the edges to ensure less mess.) Pile a small amount of ham on each sandwich. Garnish with chives.
Nutritional information per sandwich: 116 calories, 6 grams fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 426 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.
-- Chris Belanger, Six10 Grille in the Ashton Hotel
This bar cookie is perennially a favorite at the tearoom. The recipe is from the Rose Garden Tearoom cookbook.
1 1/2 cups flour, plus an additional 3 tablespoons
3/4 cup melted butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
2. With a fork, mix 1 1/2 cups flour, butter and 1/3 cup powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Press mixture into bottom of baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
3. In mixer, beat sugar and eggs until creamy. Add the 3 tablespoons flour and lemon juice and mix until well combined.
4. Pour onto crust and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes until set.
5. Cool in the baking dish. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into 1-inch squares. (For the Rose Garden high teas, these squares are cut across corner to corner to make a triangle for a daintier presentation.)
Nutritional information per square: 54 calories, 2 grams fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 25 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 40 percent of calories from fat.
-- Helen Bowers, Rose Garden Tearoom
Cranberry-orange cream scones
This is a simple scone recipe that produces wonderful results. Feel free to substitute other dried fruits to your liking.
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting cutting board)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided use
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients, cranberries and orange zest.
2. Slowly add 1 cup of heavy cream and combine with a spatula. Mix just enough to be completely combined.
3. Turn out on a lightly floured cutting board and form a ball. Use a rolling pin to roll into a circle 3/4 of an inch thick.
4. Using a sharp knife, divide dough into 12 equal pieces (shaped like pie slices). Place dough evenly spaced on a nonstick baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or lightly coated with nonstick spray.
5. Brush tops with remainder of heavy cream (additional sugar can be added if desired). Bake for 17 to 20 minutes. Be sure to turn halfway through to ensure even cooking. Centers should be moist but set, not doughy.
Nutritional information per scone: 179 calories, 9 grams fat, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 34 milligrams cholesterol, 221 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat.
-- Chris Belanger, Six10 Grille in the Ashton Hotel, Fort Worth