New shortbread recipes for Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!

I dreamed of some new shortbread for the Chinese New Year inspired by Asian flavors, just in time to celebrate the Year of the Dog!

All recipes are based on the basic shortbread recipe in this post.  Add-ins are indicated in red below:

Black sesame shortbread
(Basic shortbread recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Classic Shortbread III recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/3 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
2 1/2 Tbsp. toasted black sesame seeds

Matcha black sesame shortbread
Add 1 tsp. matcha powder to above

To toast the black sesame seeds, see this post on the China Sichuan Food blog.  I was so happy to find this post!  Prior to using this method, I always burned the black sesame seeds–they start smoking and burning within seconds.  You cannot toast black sesame seeds in the same way as white sesame seeds and toasting them is necessary to get that distinct nutty flavor.  They just don’t taste good raw…

Using a food processor, grind toasted black sesame seeds until they resemble a coarse powder (fine powder is also okay but my food processor doesn’t get it that fine).  Add all other ingredients and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour.  Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray.  Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan.  Prick the entire surface with a fork.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.  Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board.  If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board.  This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out.  Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish.  The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.


Almond sesame shortbread
(Basic shortbread recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Classic Shortbread III recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/3 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
1/4 c. almond flour (optional, may omit)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. to 3/4 c. toasted white sesame seeds

To toast the sesame seeds, heat them in a pan over low-medium heat until they start to turn golden brown.  Watch them carefully because they can burn quickly, turning from white to dark brown in the blink of an eye.  If they turn dark brown, toss them because they will be bitter.

Using a food processor, add all ingredients except the sesame seeds and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour.  Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray.  Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan.  Spread the sesame seeds over the surface, pressing them into the dough.  Add more if needed to cover the surface completely.  Turn the pan over gently to release any loose excess sesame seeds.  Prick the entire surface with a fork.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.  Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board.  If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board.  This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out.  Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish.  The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.


Oolong tea shortbread
(Basic shortbread recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Classic Shortbread III recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/3 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
1 Tbsp. Oolong tea leaves (loose)
or
contents of 1 Oolong tea bag

Using a food processor, add all ingredients and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour.  Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray.  Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan.  Prick the entire surface with a fork.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.  Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board.  If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board.  This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out.  Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish.  The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.

May these shortbread cookies bring sweetness and joy to the new year!

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Rosewater pistachio shortbread

I would never mess with a really good chocolate chip cookie–it doesn’t need improvement. I don’t quite feel the same way about shortbread. To me, classic shortbread is a good cookie base with simple ingredients, making it the ideal cookie for infusing with different flavors, right?  I know a few diehards who would prefer if I just stuck to making classic shortbread but I recently gifted myself with not one but TWO new shortbread molds which will finally allow me to bake more than one batch of shortbread at a time! Oh my, think of the possibilities! 🙂

Last month, I had grand plans during Chinese New Year to experiment with Chinese influenced flavors for shortbread but Time escaped me and I missed the window of opportunity (next year, I promise!).  Instead of dwelling on bygones, I decided to look forward to the next new year’s holiday for more timely inspiration, the Persian new year, Nowruz.  Spurred on by a recipe in the February 2017 issue of Bon appetit, the timing was perfect for developing a Persian flavor influenced shortbread in time for Nowruz: Rosewater pistachio.

Rosewater pistachio shortbread
(basic recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Nut Shortbread recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/2 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
1 Tbsp. rosewater
1/4 c. shelled roasted unsalted pistachios

Using a food processor, add all ingredients and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour. Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray. Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan. Prick the entire surface with a fork. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned. Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board. If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board. This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out. Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish. The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.

Happy new year!  Happy Nowruz!

“Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing.”

– Rumi

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Rise of the humanists

I have been fascinated by the Italian Renaissance for as long as I can remember.  So much so that I feel I must have lived a previous life during the Renaissance.  Though the Renaissance was not by any means all moonlight and roses, I love the food, art, philosophy, architecture, music, history, and ideas that came out of this period in history.  I finally visited Italy for the first time last year and it was a dream come true–it was everything I thought it would be, AND more!  Everywhere I turned, history came alive for me and I may as well have stepped back in time.  I was moonstruck in Firenze, feeling giddy knowing I walked the same streets once traversed by the Medici Family, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Because of my interest and lifelong interest in the Italian Renaissance and my love for culinary history, I decided to host an Italian Renaissance afternoon tea for the Victorian Tea Society.

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As the hostess for this tea, I faced many challenges.  The last-minute challenges I faced were timing and conversation, due to recent current events.  Conversation and friendship are the most important components of a tea party and even our society guidelines gives suggestions for the hostess’ role in this regard quite clearly:

Art of Conversation/Sharing: Members to let hostess know in advance if they have something to share/discuss, keeping conversations on a pleasant and positive note. Any time a member or guest brings up an unpleasant topic (i.e., politics, religion, personal problems, negative issues, etc.), it will be up to the hostess to direct the conversation back to more pleasant topics.

Normally, this is not a problem with our group but hosting a tea fresh on the heels of the most derisive and divisive presidential election in our nation’s history, the topic of politics assuredly weighed heavily on everyone’s minds.  How could I steer our conversation away from the events of the past week?1112161009a-small

As soon as all my guests arrived, I announced that we would not discuss politics for the next 3 hours and concentrate only on “pleasant conversation”!  Since the theme of the tea was the Italian Renaissance, I took the liberty to explain that one of the reasons I loved the Renaissance was the rise of humanist thought.  Humanism started in Italy with thinkers like Petrarch, Machiavelli, Cosimo de Medici and then spread across Western Europe in the 14th-16th centuries.  Renaissance humanists believed that by studying the classics and humanities, they could better understand people and the world.  Secular and human interests became more prominent during this period, creating a new consciousness that promoted the virtues of intellectual freedom and individual expression which influenced everything from art, food, music, literature, law, and philosophy to politics.  Humanism was important because it bridged the gap between medieval religious dogma/superstition and the modern scientific method and critical thinking (rationalism).  As the hostess, I urged and invited my guests to embrace and embody the spirit of the Renaissance humanists, to learn from our history, and strive to become better human beings!  And we would do this one Tea at a time! 🙂

Putting aside my last-minute challenges, my main challenge was to organize an afternoon tea around a theme that was not tea friendly or conducive to tea foods.  I wanted to preserve the look, feel, and tastes of afternoon tea without compromising my theme.  In the end, I got inspiration from the Renaissance master himself, Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”1112161010-small

So the table would not look too empty, I made a simple centerpiece using candles with medieval designs (although they could pass for Renaissance) surrounded by rosemary branches, tangerines (during the Renaissance, these would have been bitter oranges), and pomegranates, ingredients heavily featured in Italian Renaissance cooking.

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Table centerpiece

I served the food as a Renaissance feast so I didn’t use tea caddies for this tea party but I did enlist a co-hostess to help me serve the food (Thanks Lady S.!).  This worked out well to help promote conversation across the table which is sometimes difficult with tea caddies in the way.

I also made simple placecards which were perched on cupcake pedestals.

1112161009-small-2For the tea favors, I wrapped bottles of flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar in paper that resembled Italian majolica, tin-glazed ceramics.  The tin glaze created a white opaque surface that was ideal for painting and gave majolica its characteristic luster and bright colors.  It was also non-porous making it ideal for storing liquids and for use as apothecary jars.  Majolica was first developed in the 14th century with production peaking during the Renaissance and dwindling by the 18th century.

I had a lot of fun creating the menu and researching Renaissance food and cooking.  I wanted to create a vegetarian menu that was as authentic as possible while upholding the idea of an afternoon tea.

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Erratum: The last dolci should be ricciarelli, not riciarelli.

I served 3 different teas, 2 hot teas and 1 iced tea.  I bought the first 2 teas at the wonderful Oronero tea shop in Firenze.  The first teas, Il Sogno di Michelangelo (The dream of Michelangelo), is an oolong tea with pinenuts, raisins, cornflower, sunflower petals, and safflower.  The second tea, Palazzo Belfiore, was blended specially for a 15th century residence, now a guest apartment, with the same name.  It’s a blend of two types of blacks teas (China and Ceylon), with notes of pomegranate, orange peel, safflower, and chocolate.  The third and final tea was an iced tea, Persian melon white, from the St. James Tearoom.  Though it’s not an Italian tea, I chose it to give a nod to Marco Polo and other merchants/traders/explorers of the Renaissance period who, I imagine, must have introduced exotic fruits like Casaba melon to Europe.  The Palazzo Belfiore was, hands-down, everyone’s favorite tea of the day.

The first course was Ribollita, a famous Tuscan bread soup dating from the Middle Ages, when servants collected trenchers of uneaten bread for boiling in their own dinners.  It is a hearty soup containing stale bread, cannellini beans, and vegetables.  Tomatoes were not used in Renaissance cookery but this soup is so delicious that I wanted to share it.  My friend S. originally turned me onto Ribollita at a previous New Year’s tea and it’s become a favorite in our winter rotation.  Leave out the bacon for a vegetarian/vegan version.

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Ribollita

Tramezzini are triangular-shaped Venetian tea sandwiches with fillings such as tuna, proscuitto/ham, asparagus, and hard-boiled eggs.  Though they are not a Renaissance food, they utilize ingredients from the period and were invented as an alternative to English tea sandwiches.  Usually eaten as a snack or for lunch, most tramezzini have some kind of meat in it but we made 2 vegetarian versions that pleased everyone: Paprika egg salad, arugula, and edamame (substituted for fava beans) and polenta crostini with mushrooms.

Polenta crostini with mushrooms and Paprika egg salad with edamame and arugula

Polenta crostini with mushrooms by Lady K. and Paprika egg salad with “fava beans” and arugula by Lady ML

Meat, cheese, and egg pies or tarts were popular during the Renaissance.  Spinach and herbs such as parsley, fennel, chervil, and ginger often appear in Renaissance recipes for egg pie.  Lady B. served a delicious spinach and herb quiche (egg pie).

Spinach and herb quiche

Spinach and herb quiche by Lady B.

Panzanella salad is another recipe dating from the Middle Ages that makes use of stale bread.  There are many recipes for Panzanella salad but leave out the tomatoes for authenticity.  To learn about the origins of Panzanella salad, I refer you to Emiko Davies’ post on Bronzino’s Panzanella.  Lady J. based her recipe on Davies’ suggestions.

Of all the dishes for the tea, the one that I was most excited about was the Spiced walnut linguine.  It’s a pasta dish that can include any combination of popular spices from the Renaissance period such as cloves, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, and pepper and epitomizes the sweet-savory taste that is so characteristic of Renaissance cookery.  Lady MH added some Parmesan cheese which contributed to the savory aspect of the dish.  She also presented the pasta beautifully on mini ceramic plates which added to the Renaissance feel since Renaissance food was not very colorful, comprised mainly of neutral tones.  I really enjoyed this dish and can’t wait to try making it myself!

I love savory scones and this tea was the perfect opportunity to incorporate it.  Since I didn’t have much time to put this tea together, doing less was ideal.  In this case, we didn’t have to make scone condiments to go with the scones. The idea for these scones were inspired by the cheese & sundried tomato scones I once enjoyed at Avoca cafe in Dublin, Ireland but I couldn’t find the recipe and came across Feta, olive, and sundried tomato scones instead which were just as delicious!

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Feta, olive, and sundried tomato scones by Lady T.

Biancomangiare, “white dish,” originated during the Middle Ages, perhaps with the Arab introduction of rice and almonds to Europe.  Variations of the dish existed across early modern Europe (French blancmange, Turkish tavuk göğsü, Spanish manjar blanco, Danish hwit moos, etc.).  I highly recommend checking out Emiko Davies’ beautiful blog post about The art of Renaissance comfort food, if you would like to learn more about the origins of biancomangiare.  The biancomangiare I chose to serve at my tea is a vegan version based on various recipes for “Sicilian white pudding,” touted as the most traditional and famous white food in Italy.

Biancomangiare

Biancomangiare by Lady H.

Biancomangiare
(adapted from various recipes online)

4 c. unsweetened almond milk (store-bought or homemade)
6 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. rosewater or orange blossom water

Mix 1 /2 c. almond milk with 6 Tbsp. cornstarch to make a slurry and set aside.  Put remaining 3 1/2 c. milk, sugar, cinnamon stick, and rosewater in a pot and heat to just under a boil.  Add the cornstarch slurry and heat just until thickened (until mixture coats the back of a spoon).  Pour the mixture into individual cups or one big pan.  Chill at least one hour until firm like pudding.  Garnish with chopped pistachios, pomegranate seeds, ground cinnamon, organic edible rose petals, mint leaves, unsweetened cocoa, etc.

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Ricciarelli (almond cookies) by Lady S.

Ricciarelli is a traditional Italian cookie made with almonds that originated in 14th century Siena.  They are chewy, light, and crisp at the same time, similar to a French macaron but better!  Everyone went crazy for these cookies!  Fortunately for us, Lady S. made 2 batches! 🙂  And Lady MH declared Lady S. her new best friend!  Yes, these cookies are quite enchanting indeed.

Ricciarelli (almond cookies)

(Recipe from Fearless Fresh)

3 c. fine almond flour (NOT almond meal)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. lemon zest

Combine the almond flour, granulated sugar, 1 cup of the powdered sugar, the baking powder, and the salt in a bowl.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites into soft peaks. Fold in the almond extract, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and almond-flour mixture. Stir until completely combined.

Use a tablespoon to scoop out a large ball of cookie dough. Roll the dough into a ball in your hands, then use the bottom of a glass to gently smash the cookie into a disk about ½-inch thick. Roll in the remaining powdered sugar and set on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Let sit, uncovered, on the counter for about 45 minutes, or until the surfaces dry out just a touch. Preheat the oven to 250°F (121°C).

Place the cookies into the preheated oven and bake for 22 to 27 minutes, until they are golden brown around the edges.

Cool completely on a cooling rack, then store in an airtight container for up to a week.


And last but not least, a tea fashion show to illustrate how creative everyone was with their tea attire!  Hair garlands, crocheted snood, hair bands, Renaissance style dress, and a dress with constellations, a tribute to Galileo.

Thank you ladies, for a wonderful and memorable afternoon!  The food was delicious and I couldn’t have asked for better company.  It was definitely one for the ages! 😉

Instead of ending my post with a quotation about tea, I’m going to end with some prudent words from my favorite Italian Renaissance masters, to remind us of our humanist duty to think for ourselves, continue to learn, and not blindly accept the dogma of the day.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
–Michelangelo

There are three classes of people: Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”
Galilei Galileo

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Sunday tea for 2

My friend J. invited me to a Saturday tea for 2 a couple of years ago.  It was high time for me to reciprocate and invite her to tea too.

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J. is a fellow yogi so I folded these lotus napkins just for her!  Instructions for the lotus napkin fold as well as other lovely folds can be found on the Fab Art DIY website.

Lotus napkin

Lotus napkin

J. and I also share a similar tastes and philosophy about food.  Though we both eat meat and seafood occasionally, we also have a great appreciation for all things tofu and vegan/vegetarian.  It is not uncommon for us to wax lyrical about tofu, matcha, unusual veggies and fruits, mochi, and things like pickled french fries. 🙂

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Chicken salad croissant sandwiches and open faced tofu “egg” salad on multigrain bread by Henni

Tofu “egg” salad
(adapted from various recipes online and in cookbooks)

1 pkg. 14 oz. extra firm tofu
1 celery stalk, very finely chopped
2 Tbsp. eggless mayo (optional) or silken tofu
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp. dried minced onion or 1/4 c. finely chopped white, red, or green onion
1 tsp. Dijon or whole grain mustard
1 tsp. dried dill or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. kala namak (black salt)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Press and dry the tofu.  Using a fork, coarsely mash the tofu with all other ingredients in a large bowl.  Serve cold or at room temperature as you would egg salad.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

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Salmon salad sandwiches with arugula and lemon by J.

Salmon sandwiches

1 can salmon
Chopped onion
Chopped celery
Lemon juice
Yogurt and/or mayo (just enough to keep everything together)
Chopped arugula (or other greens)

Mix all ingredients together with a fork.  Use as a sandwich filling.  Garnish sandwiches with fresh herbs, sliced radishes, lemon slices, etc.

J. had mentioned that the Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe had really good scones. In fact, so good that she got up early this morning to buy some of their fresh scones. I have to admit they were the best scones I’ve ever had, anywhere. They were a treat indeed.

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Best scone I’ve ever had!

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Vegan chocolate chip cookies and D.’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

My favorite (vegan) chocolate chip cookies
(adapted from various recipes online)
(Yield: 16-20 cookies)

1 cup flour (your choice)
1/4 cup unrefined sugar (turbinado or sugar in the raw)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup oil (canola, vegetable, grapeseed, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until there are no dry spots and the dough comes together.

Using a cookie scoop, place rounded spoonfuls onto a lined cookie sheet and flatten the tops a bit using your finger. Bake for 11 minutes at 350 degrees. Let rest on cookie sheet 1 minute before transferring to cooling rack.

     *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *           *          *          *          *

Thank you J. for having tea with me on a Sunday morning!  I enjoyed the tea offerings very much and the company even more!

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States (1933-1945)

Valentine’s Day Tea

The inimitable Lady B. hosted a Victorian Valentine’s Day Tea to start off our first Victorian Tea Society tea for 2014.

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Rose petals leading the way to tea

Greeted by this at the door

Greeting at the door

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Vintage Victorian valentines display in the parlor

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In Lady B.’s house, it is even elegant behind the scenes!  This is where we plated the food before it went out to the table.

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Lady B. made these heart shaped sugar cubes!

 

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More Valentine’s Day touches!

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Place names were anchored with red Hershey’s kisses.

Lady B. made each of us a unique Victorian style valentine with the message, "You're my cup o f tea!"

Lady B. made each of us a unique Victorian style Valentine with the message, “You’re my cup of tea!”

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Shrimp bisque

True love shrimp bisque by Lady B. (this soup was amazing!)

Heartbeets salad

Garden of Eden beets salad by Lady J. (I like to call this “Heartbeets” salad)  🙂

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Be mine cucumber and radish sandwiches by Lady ML

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Kiss me orange-ricotta sandwiches on whole wheat and Mad about you peas & carrots sandwiches on whole grain toast by Lady T.

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Lover’s delight egg salad sandwiches by Lady MH. Lady MH commissioned the red and white marbled bread from a local bakery, specially for this tea party!

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French kiss smoked salmon and caper sandwiches with cream cheese by Lady L.

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Fire of love red pepper heart pinwheels by Lady Henni

Lady Henni’s Red pepper heart pinwheels
(yield: 12 servings)

1 sheet of puff pastry
1/2 c. Boursin or herbed cream cheese
1/2 c. finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
Chopped green herbs (parsley, scallions, oregano, and/or basil)

Spread herbed cream cheese evenly over puff pastry.  Sprinkle red pepper and Parmesan cheese over the cream cheese layer.  Carefully roll long edges of dough to meet in center like a double scroll.scrollWith a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/2-inch slices.  Place slices, cut sides down, on greased cookie sheet.  Slightly pinch the center between the rolled edges (base of heart) into a point.  Sprinkle additional Parmesan cheese on tops (optional).  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 mins. until golden brown.

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Sweetheart cherry-rose scones

Sweetheart cherry-rose scones

After the sandwiches, savory, and scones courses, we migrated out into Lady B’s inspired English garden to have dessert in her gazebo.

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Dessert — this way!

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The outdoor tea party!

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Whimsical teapot chandelier

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Lady B. and her husband decorated the gazebo with beautiful details such as this hanging teacup flower arrangement

DSC02887 (Small)To embrace the theme of Valentine’s Day, Lady B. asked each of us to bring a Valentine or love letter to share.

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Lady B’s favorite Valentine from her granddaughter

Lady J. also gave us each a special Valentine with a personal poem inside

Lady J. also gave us each a special Valentine with a personal poem inside

While we were waiting for dessert, Lady T. shared a great Valentine’s Day story that made us laugh.  Lady T.’s husband once bought her a small white teddy bear with a heart on its belly for Valentine’s Day.  She gushed about how much she liked it and her husband was so happy!  In fact, he was so happy that Lady T. has has received a white teddy bear at Valentine’s Day every year for the past 10 years!  She now has a closet full of them but she doesn’t have the heart to tell her husband that she’s really not that into the bears.  Lady T. said that the moral of the story was to be careful about telling little white lies. 😉

Lady L. related a similar story of a new wife who once made a special meatloaf for her husband’s lunch.  Her husband thought the meatloaf was horrible but didn’t want to hurt her feelings so he ate it all up and said it was delicious!  The wife made him meatloaf for lunch everyday after that …!

DSC02889 (Small)Lady B. was behind the scenes, working fast and furious, decorating and putting together a strawberry ice cream brownie birthday cake to surprise Lady T. who turned 70 this day!  Lady B. makes her own ice cream so this was a special cake indeed.  Happy birthday T.!

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Strawberry ice cream brownie cake

Sweetheart shortbread cookies
(From the kitchen of Lady B.)

1 c. walnuts, toasted
1/2 c. plus 2 T. sugar
1 1/2 c. butter (3 sticks), slightly softened
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. salt
3 c. cake flour (not self-rising)
6 oz. milk chocolate

1.  In food processor with knife blade attached or in blender at med. speed, blend walnuts and sugar until nuts are finely ground.
2.  In large bowl, with mixer at med. speed, beat butter, vanilla extract, salt & ground-walnut mixture until light & fluffy.  With wooden spoon, stir in flour until dough forms.  If necessary, with hands, press dough together.  Divide dough into 3 equal pieces; wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough until easy to handle, about 2 hrs.
3.  Preheat oven to 375 F. Sprinkle 15-inch long sheet waxed paper with flour.  Place 1/3 of dough on floured waxed paper (keep remaining dough refrigerated).  Lightly sprinkle dough with flour.  Place another sheet of waxed paper over dough.  Roll dough between waxed paper 1/4 inch thick, sprinkling dough with more flour if necessary to keep from sticking.
4.  Remove top sheet of waxed paper.  With floured 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as possible from dough; reserve trimmings in refrigerator.  With floured pancake turner, place hearts, about 2 inches apart, on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake cookies 10 to 15 min. until golden.  Allow cookies to remain on cookie sheet 2 min. before removing to racks to cool completely.  Repeat with remaining dough and trimmings.
5.  When cookies are cool, melt chocolate.  Dip or drizzle chocolate onto cookies.  Let chocolate dry about 1 hr. or until firm.  Store cookies in tightly covered container.  Makes 28 cookies.

For my Valentine love letter, I shared the excerpt of a poem that D. once sent me:

Love, is it day that makes thee thy delight
Or thou that seest day made out of thy light?
Love, as the sun and sea are thou and I,
Sea without sun dark, sun without sea bright;
The sun is one though day should live and die.

–Algernon Charles Swinburne, from Tristram of Lyonesse: And Other Poems

Thank you Lady B. for a wonderful Valentine’s tea!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Saturday tea for 2

My friend J. and I have been trying to get together for tea for awhile but we had both been sick and our tea date kept getting postponed. Well, we finally got healthy again and had our Saturday morning tea!
DSC02801 (Small)J. mentioned that she owned a set of Noritake china that had been in her family so I was very eager to see it and even more tickled to be afforded the opportunity to use it.  It’s beautiful!

Noritake bone china tea cup

Noritake bone china tea cup

I love J.’s creativity in setting her tea table and clever use of her china and napkins.

DSC02808 (Small)In addition to the crudites (J.’s specialty–she makes the most gorgeous arrangements of crudites which are the highlight of every party), J. also made cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and mackerel sandwiches with lemon and arugula which were delicious and savory.  The biggest surprise was discovering that I preferred mackerel over tuna!  Who knew that mackerel came in a can?!

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Blooming jasmine green tea

I brought a variety of desserts, including 2 of my favorite cookies (both happen to be based on my sister’s tried and true recipes), a teapot shaped sugar cookie (also tried and true), and Jello cheesecake.  The Jello cheesecake was a present from B., my Polish friend’s mother.  It was big enough to serve a small army so I decided to share some at tea with J.  She was so surprised to see the cheesecake.  She said that her grandmother made the same cheesecake and she didn’t know anyone else who also made it.  My initial thought was, “Is your grandmother Polish?” but no, her grandmother is Japanese …  How intriguing!  So I did a little bit of research and learned that the no-bake Jello cheesecake (or variations of it) is also known as a Polish cheesecake (sernik na zimno).  The traditional version contains a layer of fruit with gelatin poured over the top.  I also discovered that the Jello cheesecake is very popular in Hawaii (where there is a large Japanese population) and even appears on restaurant menus.  Regardless of its origin, J. enjoyed the cheesecake and memories very much.

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Big chewy oatmeal cranberry and white chocolate cookies, teapot shaped sugar cookies, Jello cheesecake, and my sister’s “famous” chocolate chip cookies

Big Chewy Oatmeal Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies
(adapted from my sister’s “Best raisin oatmeal cookie recipe”)
(Yield: 2 to 3 dozen big chewy cookies)

1 cup dried cranberries, divided
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup white chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate chips
1 egg
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 275 F.

In a blender or food processor, combine 1/2 c. dried cranberries with the water and blend until it forms a puree. Reserve the remaining 1/2 c. dried cranberries.

In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the cranberry puree, the butter, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla, until smooth.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Combine this mixture with the egg mixture, and beat until all the ingredients are evenly mixed. Stir in the remaining (intact) cranberries.

By hand, form the dough into golfball-sized balls and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart.  Flatten slightly to about 1/2-inch thickness.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom, but still soft in the middle. Don’t overbake or they’ll lose their chewiness.

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“A cup of tea shared with a friend is happiness tasted and time well spent.”

Thanks J. for a lovely Saturday morning tea.

Savory shortbread, savory cookies?

The idea of savory cookies is one that I can’t quite wrap around my palate.  Savory shortbread?  Even more off-putting!

The first time I ever tried a “savory cookie” (rosemary shortbread with Gorgonzola) it blew my mind and my taste buds!  It wasn’t at all what I expected and I certainly was not looking forward to trying it, seeing as I don’t like the sweet variety.  The second time I had a savory cookie (bleu cheese and sage shortbread with goat cheese and cranberries), I didn’t like it.  It’s always nice when your first experience with a new food is a good one because then it’s worth repeating.

It’s time to make my own savory cookie/shortbread!  I found a recipe on Epicurious.com that looked promising.  I almost never follow a recipe to the letter but since I was venturing into new territory, I decided not to be too creative.  The shortbread turned out very nicely indeed, with fresh rosemary from the garden!  These would be great served as part of a savories course for afternoon tea.

Parmesan, Rosemary, and Walnut Shortbread
(from Epicurious.com)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted at 350°F for 10 minutes, then chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter; add the Parmesan, and mix well. Stir in the flour, rosemary, walnuts, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Form the mixture into 1-inch-wide logs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least half an hour, or up to 3 days.

When you’re ready to bake the shortbread, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices, place the slices on the baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden at the edges. Remove the shortbread slices and cool them on a wire rack. You can offer these by themselves passed in a basket, or top them with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto.

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“Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.”