A Casual and Inexpensive Tea for Summer

Teas don't have to be an expensive proposition. It isn't necessary to use the most expensive ingredients or to buy a whole box of something when you need only an ounce. I've created a menu using seasonal, inexpensive and everyday ingredients that do double or triple duty. This menu won't seem skimpy or cheap to your guests. It is full of tasty and wonderful treats.

Homemade invitations are always the best. Since there are still lots of summer flowers in bloom, why not dry a few between the pages of a book and glue a blossom or two to white card stock. Glue on a bit of ribbon too. Use your best handwriting to announce the details of the tea with an ink color that matches the flower. Your guests will only see your creativity, not the small amount of money you spent.

You probably have everything you need to decorate for the tea already. Pull out all your candles for the centerpiece. Place little bouquets of flowers in between the candles. Nothing needs to match but don't let the colors clash. If you have hanging baskets or potted flowers outside, bring them in and put them around the room. Nothing says festive like flowers and candles. Use any solid color tablecloth you have and for this casual summer tea, go ahead and use paper napkins. There are really beautiful paper plates out there too but keep in mind that they will add to the overall cost of your tea. Use your nicest silverware and teacups. If you don’t have enough cups, it is perfectly okay to ask guests to bring their own. It makes for a nice show and tell and everyone enjoys this.

I like to give little favors to my guests so they have a way to remember the tea. Potpourri sachets made from beautiful, old hankies from the 1950s are a sweet and inexpensive gift. Buy the potpourri in a large bag from any craft store. The hankies can be found very inexpensively in antique stores or flea markets (or check with your grandmother.) There are so many bright colors and many feature a bit of lace on the edges. Tie the filled hankies with coordinating ribbon and group all the potpourri hankies in a basket. Let each guest pick her favorite. Just don’t place the potpourri too close to the table; you don't want the scent to overwhelm the food you’re serving.

I normally would recommend using only loose tea for an afternoon tea party; however, if you don't own the equipment necessary to brew and serve loose tea, go ahead and use tea bags. Prepare the tea in a pot though and dispose of the teabags yourself. Guests don't want to have to mess with used teabags.

Check back tomorrow for the menu!


August Tea Timetable

Up to Two Weeks Ahead:
Prepare and freeze Frosty Peach Soup
Prepare and freeze Cream Scones
Prepare and freeze Petits Choux, whole, not cut
Prepare and freeze Coconut Drops

3 Days Ahead:
Prepare Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing

2 Days Ahead:
Prepare the Chicken Salad for the Petits Choux
Cook the onions for the Zippy Roast Beef Rounds

1 Day Ahead:
Prepare the Mini Birthday Cakes
Prepare the Lemon Curd and the Tartlets but do not fill
Prepare the Dill Cream Cheese

Day of the Tea:
Prepare the salad but don’t dress it until the last minute
Fill the Petits Choux with Chicken Salad
Prepare the Cucumber Sandwiches
Assemble the Roast Beef Sandwiches
Assemble the Lemon Curd Tartlets and Top with Fruit
Prepare the Parmesan Poppy Seed Straws
Make the Tea!


Shopping List for the August Birthday Tea

5 lemons
8 peaches
1 seedless cucumber
2 small bunches of fresh dill
5 large Vidalia onions
1 large red onion
1 bunch celery
Salad greens
3 Yellow tomatoes
Mushrooms, 1/2 pound

Confectioners’ sugar, 2 pound bag
Poppy seeds, 3 tablespoons
Celery seed, 2 teaspoons
Baking cocoa, ½ cup
Unsweetened chocolate, 2 squares
Sweetened coconut, 7 ounces
Brown sugar, 1 pound
Horseradish, 4 tablespoons
Devonshire Cream
Fruit preserves
Raspberry balsamic vinegar
1 box of puff pastry dough

Butter, 4 pounds
Eggs, 2 dozen
Heavy cream, 2 cups
Buttermilk, 1 cup
Cream cheese, 3 (8 oz. boxes)
Whole milk
Whipped topping, 8 ounce container
Sour cream, 4 ounces
Parmesan cheese, 5 ounces

4 chicken breasts with bone and skin
8 ounces deli roast beef, sliced thin

White Pepperidge Farm thin sandwich bread
Brown bread, thinly sliced

Already on Hand:

Baking powder
Salt/Kosher salt
Baking soda
Dijon mustard
Olive oil
Salad oil


The Sweets Course

Lemon Curd Tartlets Topped with Fruit

For the Lemon Curd:
4 lemons
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ½ cups butter
4 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt

Using a microplane, zest the lemons. Then juice the lemons.

Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer. Add eggs, one at a time. Then add the lemon juice, zest and salt and mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a non-reactive 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring the whole time. The curd will be ready when it registers 175º on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and cool.

For the Tart Dough:
6 tablespoons butter
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg yolks
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons heavy cream

With a mixer, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar on low for about two minutes. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add half the flour and mix on low just until it is incorporated. Add remaining flour along with the salt and cream and mix just until combined. Shape dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To Assemble:

Roll tablespoons of dough into balls (adjust amount based on the size of your molds.). Using your fingers, press the balls evenly into the tartlet pans. OR if you use round molds, you can roll out the dough, cut it with a knife and fit into the molds. Using a fork, dock the bottoms of the tarts. Place the tartlet shells on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350º. Bake the tartlet shells on the cookie sheet until light golden brown about 10-12 minutes depending on size. Cool and remove from pans.

Fill the shells with lemon curd, leaving room for the fruit on top. Arrange fruit such as peach slices, blueberries, raspberries, and grapes on top of the curd. To give the fruit a shiny glaze, heat apricot preserves until liquid and brush that on top of the fruit.

Mini Chocolate Birthday Cakes

½ cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup boiling water
½ cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups flour
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray 12 mini fluted cake molds (or cupcake molds) with Pam Baking Spray. Combine cocoa, baking soda and boiling water in a bowl; stir well to blend and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, with mixer on medium speed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in vanilla.

Add flour alternately with buttermilk to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition, on low speed. Blend in cocoa mixture. Spoon batter into cake molds.

Bake 35 minutes or until done. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting and decorate with orange, yellow and green sprinkles.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Beat 1 (3-ounce) pkg. cream cheese in mixing bowl at medium speed until smooth. Gradually beat in 5 tablespoons milk. Blend in 2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled. Gradually add 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar and a dash of salt; beat until smooth on low speed.

Coconut Drops

7 ounces sweetened coconut
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375º. Pulse the coconut in a food processor about a dozen times to make the shreds finer. Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt in bowl and set aside. Combine the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl, cream on medium speed for about half a minute, then beat in the vanilla, then the egg. Beat until smooth again. Lower the speed and beat in the flour mixture, then the coconut. Drop teaspoonfuls of the batter onto cookie sheets lined with parchment. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

When cool, dip the bottom of each cookie into melted white or dark chocolate. Drizzle more of the chocolate over the tops of the cookies.


The Tea Sandwiches Course

Chicken Salad in Petits Choux

For the Petits Choux:

1 cup water
½ cup butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400º. Heat water and butter to a rolling boil. Stir in flour. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, all at one time; continue beating until smooth. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. About 5 dozen puffs.

For the Chicken Salad:

5 cups shredded chicken from 4 chicken breasts with bone and skin
1 cup celery, chopped
½ cup sweet onion, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons celery seed

To cook the chicken: Preheat oven to 350º. Place the chicken breasts on a cookie sheet lined with release foil. Rub the skin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes. Cool. Remove skin and bones and shred into bite size pieces.

Mix the chicken, celery and onion in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the dressing over the chicken mixture. Refrigerate so the flavors marry for about three hours.

To Assemble:
Slice the top off the puffs with a serrated knife. Pull out any doughy fibers inside the puff. Using a teaspoon, fill the puffs with the chicken salad and put the puff cap back on.

Cucumber with Dill Cream Cheese on White Triangles

For the Dill Cream Cheese:

1/3 cup packed roughly chopped fresh dill
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Combine the ingredients and mix well. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the Triangles:

6 slices of white Pepperidge Farm thin sandwich bread, crusts removed
1 seedless cucumber
Dill cream cheese (above)
1 small bunch of fresh dill

Spread bread slices with the dill cream cheese. Using a vegetable peeler, thinly slice the cucumber lengthwise. Place 2 cucumber slices side by side to cover the surface of a bread slice. Cut each piece of bread into quarters. Decorate the top of each triangle with sprigs of dill.

Zippy Roast Beef on Brown Rounds
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large Vidalia onions, sliced into rings
4 tablespoons horseradish
8 ounces cream cheese
salt and pepper
20 thin slices brown bread
8 ounces deli roast beef, sliced thin

In a large frying pan, heat butter and oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, cook, stirring about every 15 minutes until onions are completely caramelized, about 75 minutes. Cool.

In a small bowl, mix horseradish and cream cheese, season with salt and pepper. Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of horseradish cream cheese; cover one half with a layer of onions and roast beef. Top with another bread slice. Use a round biscuit or cookie cutter about 3” in diameter to cut a circle in the center of each sandwich. Cover with damp paper towels until ready to serve. Makes 10 tea sandwiches.


The Scones Course

These scones are great with Devonshire Cream and fruit preserves. I'm using my own peach preserves but you can make or purchase whatever you like best. Scones can be made up to two weeks ahead and frozen. To reheat, thaw and bake in 350 degree oven for 5 minutes just before serving.

Cream Scones

3 cups flour
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
¾ cup heavy cream
Extra cream for washing
Cinnamon sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 450º. Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces. Add to the food processor and pulse several times to mix until well incorporated. Whisk the eggs and milk together, add to the flour and pulse to form a smooth dough.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces and using your hands, pat each into a 5-inch disk. Using a sharp, floured knife, cut each disk into 4 pie shaped wedges. Place the wedges apart on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Brush with cream, allow to dry several minutes, then brush again. Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.

Bake the scones for 10-15 minutes.


The Soup and Salad Course

Frosty Peach Soup

If you don’t like the idea of using whipped topping, by all means use your own freshly whipped cream. I prefer the whipped topping in the soup because it gives it a bit more thickness but I like the real stuff for decorating the top.

4-5 cups fresh peaches, peeled
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Dash grated nutmeg
8 ounce container of whipped topping
4 ounces sour cream
¾ cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon raspberry balsamic vinegar
Splash of rum

For Garnish:
Extra peach slices, whipped topping/fresh whipped cream and mint sprigs

Puree peaches in a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours and for really frosty peach soup, put it in the freezer about 15 minutes before serving it. Garnish each serving with a dollop of whipped topping or real whipped cream, a slice of peach and a sprig of fresh mint.

Serve in a small frosted glass bowl or goblet. Makes 8-10 servings.

Summer Salad with fresh greens, yellow tomatoes, sliced mushrooms and red onions, topped with Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing. A Parmesan Poppy Seed Straw graces the salad plate.

Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing

3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. salad oil
3/4 c. vinegar
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 to 2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Combine all ingredients. Shake well. Refrigerate.

Parmesan Poppy Seed Straws

1 box of puff pastry dough, defrosted
flour for dusting
4 tablespoons butter, melted
5 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated in a food processor to yield 1 ¼ cups
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 425º. Roll out the puff pastry dough on floured surface 1/8” thick, making a 24 x 26” rectangle. Brush the dough lightly with the melted butter. Sprinkle the dough with ¾ cup of the Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1 tablespoon of the poppy seeds.

Fold the dough in half, short sides together. Brush the surface of the dough with the egg. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon poppy seeds and ½ cup Parmesan. Cut the dough vertically into ½ inch wide strips. Transfer to a baking sheet. Stretch and twist each strip. Store unbaked dough in the refrigerator until it goes into the oven.

Bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Allow the straws to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

August’s Birthday Tea Party Menu

Here's the basic menu for August's birthday tea. The recipes will follow in the next posts.

First Course, the Soup and Salad:
Frosty Peach Soup
Summer Salad with fresh greens, yellow tomatoes, sliced mushrooms and red onions, topped with Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing. A Parmesan Poppy Seed Straw to grace the salad plate.

Second Course, the Scones:
A Cream Scone with Devonshire Cream and Homemade Peach Preserves

Third Course, the Tea Sandwiches/Savories:
Chicken Salad in Petits Choux
Cucumber with Dill Cream Cheese on White Triangles
Zippy Roast Beef on Brown Rounds

Fourth Course, the Sweets:
Lemon Curd Tartlets with Fruit
Mini Birthday Cakes
Coconut Drops

The Tea:
Darjeeling: Risheehat Estate SFTGFOP1 Cl/Fl Second Flush (Boiling water, 3 minute steep)

A Birthday Tea for August

Two of my good friends from elementary school are having birthdays in August just one day apart. It is our tradition that we celebrate with tea. We could visit a tea room but I prefer to make the day a bit more personal, private and serene.

Since it will be just the three of us, I’m not going to send paper invitations. My friends won’t be offended by a phone call instead. This way I’ll know if the date I’ve chosen will work with their schedules. Birthday girls are always in high demand, you know.

I’ve based my decorations on this fabric from David Textiles. It is called Rainforest Frogs. It's fun without being cartoonish. I’ve made a tablecloth for my round card table from this material and sewn napkins from a matching orange fabric. To balance the wild colors, I will use white or crystal dishes with some green accent pieces.

Little bouquets of gold and orange marigolds will be perfect. I won’t set flowers on the tea table though as I don’t want the scent to overwhelm the food. Instead I’ll place three small vases in each section of my bay window. For table decoration, there will be childhood photos of my friends in little gold frames.

I like to have music playing in the background. Music from the decade my friends were born seems perfect. Some specially mixed CDs with songs like Sea of Love, Little Darlin’, Mack the Knife and of course, lots of Elvis will put us in a party mood.

For favors/birthday presents, I found several frog things on Etsy. I am especially tickled with the frog soaps that smell of tea and cucumber—what could be more appropriate for this tea party!

As for the menu itself, I’ll be posting that next. Don’t worry, it doesn’t include any frog legs.