I always like to include a few recipes that can be used by those who don’t like to cook or bake. This pretty Christmas red and green salad is simple to put together but it looks as though it took a lot of trouble.
1 big bunch of thin asparagus
4 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup bottled balsamic vinaigrette
1 cup roasted red pepper strips, buy the jarred kind or make them yourself
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
8 cups baby arugula, trimmed and torn into pieces
Preheat oven to 400º. Rinse the asparagus spears, pat dry, and snap off and discard the tough ends. Place the asparagus in a shallow baking pan, drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Bake the asparagus until it just begins to take on a roasted appearance, 5 to 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the balsamic vinaigrette in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not let it come to a boil.
Remove the baking pan from the oven and toss the red pepper strips and olives with the hot asparagus. Either divide the arugula among 8 plates or place the salad in a bowl. Top it with the asparagus mixture. Spoon the warmed dressing over the salad and serve at once. Makes 8 servings.
This is a very elegant salad to offer guests whether for the Progressive Tea Party or for Christmas dinner.
3 ½ mixed salad leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
¼ bulb fennel, cut into thin strips
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 ¼ ounces Prosciutto, cut into thin strips
6 ripe fresh figs
4 ounces mozzarella
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
Mix the salad leaves, mint, fennel, and shallots. To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Toss salad with the dressing. Arrange on serving platter. Snip open the figs in criss-cross pattern . Pinch from the bottom to expose the insides. Weave with Prosciutto. Add mozzarella. Serves 6.
This is a very simple soup to prepare. Finding the ingredients might be the only difficulty. But remember, this is for a special Christmas tea so a trip to the specialty food store or Asian market isn’t out of line. Your guests will love this soup. It is one of my favorites.
3 cups chicken broth
4 kaffir lime leaves, cut into thin strands
A 3-inch length of lemongrass, finely chopped OR zest of ½ lemon, julienned
2 1/8-inch slices of fresh ginger
¼ cup fish sauce
½ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
3 jalapeno chilies, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 cup peeled shrimp
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 ½ cups coconut milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Combine the all ingredients except cilantro. Bring to a slow simmer. Simmer long enough to cook the shrimp. Season with salt and top with cilantro.
This is a very light soup topped with a low-calorie alternative to the usual sour cream. It makes a very nice way to start the Progressive Christmas Tea Party.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons dried marjoram
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 14-16 ounce can peeled tomatoes, undrained
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper
1 cup plain yogurt
2 green onions, minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 small garlic clove, minced
Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from orange. Reserve the fruit for another use. Heat oil in heavy saucepan. Add orange peel, onions and garlic. Cover and cook until onions are tender and golden, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove orange peel.
Stir in herbs, cumin and crushed red pepper. Cook until cumin is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juices and stock and bring to boil. Cover pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool slightly.
Puree soup in batches in blender. Return soup to saucepan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 8 full servings or 16 smaller tea party servings.
For yogurt: Combine ingredients in small bowl. Use to top soup just before serving.
Do you have a mule in your family history? No, no, I don’t mean that as a nice way of saying your stubborn Uncle Harry. I’m talking about a real mule, a long ear. If your family lived on a farm, there was no doubt a mule or two.
Jack, Kate, Dave and Joe are pictured above. They were the mules my father-in-law’s family used. I can’t help wondering if the mules were named after real people. I think it might be more an insult than a tribute to have a mule named after you.
The next picture shows haying with mules. That’s my FIL and his brother on top of the hay. Guessing from their ages, the picture must have been taken in the late ‘30s. Today my Amish neighbors still use mules in this same fashion.
Why am I talking about mules? Blame my brother. He has a mule named Trooper. He doesn’t use him for farming but for riding. Almost every weekend, the two of them go on a trail ride with other mule lovers. In the photos, his group was on a three-day ride in an area near Gettysburg. Doesn’t it look relaxing?
A mule is a hybrid, the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. Each mule has his own unique whinny/heehaw. They are sure-footed, carefully placing their feet in rocky terrain and they can actually see their back feet. They can even run backwards.
My brother offered to take me for a ride on Trooper. And he was serious. I think I’ll just stay on the ground. He's an awfully beautiful animal though.
Here are some ideas for the progressive tea. I’ve given a couple options for each course. Don’t think that all items should be served at this tea.
The Soup Course:
Savory Tomato Soup with Herbed Yogurt
Coconut Soup with Shrimp and Mushrooms
The Salad Course:
Fig and Prosciutto Salad
Warm Arugula Salad with Roasted Asparagus
The Scone Course:
Orange-Poppy seed Scones
Very Cherry Pistachio Scones
Lemon-Cranberry Tea Bread
White Chocolate Blueberry Tea Bread
The Savory Course:
Thai Crab Cakes
Tiny Ham and Pineapple Pot Pies
The Sweets Course:
Old Fashioned Coconut Layer Cake
Chocolate Raspberry Dessert
Muscat Poached Pears
Cookie Plate with Gingerbread Men
I love visiting friends’ homes at Christmas. What fun to see the decorations and the tree, each uniquely expressing that family’s style and taste. But it isn’t always easy to find time to visit everyone I’d like. My solution is to have a Progressive Christmas Tea Party.
A progressive party starts at one home and the guests travel to consecutive homes for every additional course. Teas have five courses so that’s five different homes everyone will get to visit. No hostess has the entire burden of the tea; a progressive party is much less stress.
Begin the progressive tea party with soup at the first house, salad at the second, the third offers scones, fourth is the savory course and finally the last stop is for dessert. Allow time for admiring and lingering but make a definite time to leave each home so the next hostess can be ready.
The five hostesses should coordinate the food they’ll offer. No one wants shrimp in the soup, in the salad and as a tea sandwich filling. But the decorations, the table and the music should express each hostess’ taste.
This Progressive Christmas Tea Party works well with a small group of friends as guests, as well as, with a whole Sunday School class. Two or even three seatings is very easy to accommodate.
It is nice to incorporate a gift-giving element into any Christmas party. Have each guest bring an item or cash donation for a particular charity. Or for a small group of guests, a needy family might be adopted and gifts provided for them.
Do a little charity research to find a cause that touches your heart. Check Charity Navigator to make sure your money is going to be used as you’d want. If, like me, you don’t want your donation going to a charity that has a CEO making $300,000 a year, look for one that uses most of their money for their cause.
Tomorrow I’ll have menu selections for the Progressive Christmas Tea Party. Recipes will follow in the coming days.
Send your guests back home after the Thanksgiving holiday with tea for the road. A thermos of hot tea and a bag of chocolate chip cookies will be most welcome. And you'll have some cookies left over for yourself.
Everyone has their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Here's mine. It makes a chewy cookie with tons of chips. The surprise ingredient is vinegar. It cuts the sweetness of the cookie and lets the flavors of the chocolate and butter shine through.
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
3 cups chocolate chips
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Cream together the butter, sugars, corn syrup and vinegar, then beat in eggs. Beat in vanilla, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in the flour and chips.
Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until just set. Remove and transfer to a rack to cool. Makes 4 dozen.
Yesterday I suggested sending your guests out on Friday for a bit so that you could relax and recharge on your own. Now Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend is your time to go visiting. And you don’t want to go empty handed. Pop this Chocolate Chip Bread in your bread machine and you will have an absolutely effortless gift to take along. Pack a few of your favorite tea bags or servings of loose tea to share too.
Makes 1 ½ pound loaf
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons softened butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 cups bread flour
¾ cup chocolate chips
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dry milk
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon bread machine yeast
Add all ingredients to bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Sweet cycle, light crust color.
There is a Bushmasters Museum in Arizona. We would like to donate these items if they'd want them. The Bushmasters still exist today and are deployed to Afghanistan.
Friday afternoon send your houseguests out, out shopping, out for a walk, out to visit other friends or family. Take a quiet moment for yourself. Sit down in your favorite chair with a mug of strong Yunnan tea (Upton has a great one, here) and a turkey sandwich.
Make your turkey sandwich as big or small as you like. Leftover turkey, cranberries, lettuce, even stuffing, all taste almost as good as Thanksgiving dinner itself. Close your eyes and savor the flavor.
Thanksgiving morning is such a hectic time. If you’re like me, you are tearing around your kitchen trying to get the dressing made and into the turkey and then getting the turkey in the oven so dinner will be on time. Making breakfast for houseguests is the last thing I want to think about.
My simple solution to having hungry houseguests is to prepare a quick breakfast tea. The easy coffee cake takes only 5 minutes to mix up and 20 minutes in the oven. Do this before starting the turkey and it will be ready before the bird goes in the oven.
Offer some fruit and a pot of tea and your guests can serve themselves in another room, another room far from the kitchen. You might even consider making up a tea tray and leaving it outside your guest room so your guests don’t have to get dressed before coming down to eat.
For a great breakfast tea, go with a traditional English Breakfast Tea or Earl Grey. Slip a tea cozy over the pot and the tea will stay hot all through the breakfast hour.
This tasty coffee cake recipe came from the back of the Bisquick box and has been around for years. It was one of my mother's family dessert standards. Add chopped fruit or nuts if you like to jazz it up a bit.
Streusel Coffee Cake
1/3 cup Original Bisquick mix
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons firm butter or margarine
2 cups Original Bisquick mix
2/3 cup milk or water
2 tablespoons sugar
Heat oven to 375°F. Grease 9-inch round pan. In small bowl, stir streusel ingredients until crumbly; set aside.
In medium bowl, mix coffee cake ingredients until blended. Spread in pan. Sprinkle with streusel.
Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.
If the idea of hosting a tea party over the Thanksgiving weekend sends shivers down your spine, you aren’t alone. After preparing the big feast, you’re exhausted, your fridge is already stuffed with leftovers and lots of your potential guests are out of town. Nope, no big Thanksgiving tea party. BUT you can still enjoy tea at this busy time of year. Coming up are five little ways to share tea all through the holiday.
The first tea is for Wednesday evening. Welcome your Thanksgiving houseguests with these delicious Pumpkin Bars and decaf tea. Their travel stress will be eased with Bigelow's Constant Comment tea. And who doesn’t like a snack before bed. I call this The Arrival Tea Party.
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup raisins, if desired
1 package (3 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup nuts, walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts
Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease bottom and sides of 15x10x1-inch pan with shortening. In large bowl, beat eggs, granulated sugar, oil and pumpkin until smooth. Stir in flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves. Stir in raisins. Spread in pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 2 hours.
In medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, on low speed until smooth and spreadable. Spread frosting over bars. Sprinkle with nuts. For bars, cut into 7 rows by 7 rows. Store in refrigerator.
You might not have 50 people in your home for a tea but you might one day be in charge of a fundraiser tea or the Mother and Daughter Tea at your church. It can be really confusing to know how much you’ll need to serve your guests and how many ingredients to purchase to make each dish. Here’s a chart of amounts for cooking for 50.
Soup – 2 ½ gallons
Salad – 6 pounds of bagged salad mix, with 6 sliced cucumbers and 4 boxes of cherry tomatoes
Salad dressing – 1 ½ quart
Tea sandwiches – 1 of each kind per person
Quiche – 8 nine-inch pie plates or 50 individual mini quiche
Chicken or ham salad – ½ cup per sandwich if served on a roll – 1 ½ gallon chicken salad or ¼ cup per sandwich, if using ½ slices of bread - ¾ gallon chicken salad
Cheese – 3 pounds
Deli meats – 3 to 4 pounds
Crackers – 2 pounds
Potato salad or coleslaw – 1 ½ gallons
Fruit or veggie dippers – 16 dozen pieces
Dip – 1 ½ quart
Fruit salad – 6 quarts
Strawberries – 2 pounds large
Grapes – 4 pounds
Melon – 3 pounds
Pasta salad – 7 cups dry pasta
Nuts – 2 pounds
Pickles – 2 quarts
Lemonade – 3 dozen lemons, 2 pounds sugar, 3 ½ gallons water
Coffee – 1 ¾ pounds
Punch - 2 ½ gallons
Tea – Brewed – 38 cups water, Loose – 1 cup, Bags – 50
Cakes – 9x13 – 3 cakes
Assorted bars – 2 per person, 36 pieces per 9x13 pan
Cookies – 8 dozen
Ice cream – 2 gallons
It is always better to have too much than not enough to offer each guest. Extras can always be frozen, divided among the helpers or un-opened, un-served items can be donated to a soup kitchen.
I remember my grandmother’s using a big, scary butcher knife that looked as though it had been through the Civil War. Except for a candy thermometer, she never had most of the items I consider essential to my cooking and baking. She’d probably shake her head at my over-flowing kitchen. But I’m all about making life in the kitchen as easy as can be and the items I’ve listed below either improve efficiency or make things easier.
Stand mixer – My mother-in-law has had her Kitchenaid since the ‘40s and I’m sure it could go several more decades. Mine is much newer but just as strong. It is so wonderful for mixing up bread dough as well as making simple mashed potatoes.
Heat-proof spatulas – My husband put one of these in my Christmas stocking a few years ago. Before that, I’d been using the old rubbery kind, the kind that chipped, melted, got hard and whose heads often separated from their sticks at the most inopportune time. My new spatulas make baking soooo much nicer.
Food Processor – I know women who say that they’d rather just chop things with a knife because they don’t want to have to wash a food processor. I just throw mine in the dishwasher and it isn’t any more a problem than a dirty bowl. I’ve had the same Cuisinart for about 30 years and it is still growing strong. My food processor grates cheese and mixes up dough as well as slices and chops. I would be lost without it.
Silpat liners – What a relief to throw away my rolls of parchment paper. Nothing sticks to a silpat and even boiling caramel can be poured directly onto them. The sizes available fit into my baking sheets, unlike parchment which has to be cut. And they clean up with a quick wipe.
Whisks – Again, don’t buy the supermarket kind. They are flimsy and the wires often tangle. Oxo sells whisks with soft, comfortable handles that I love.
Candy thermometer – You can get by without a candy thermometer but you’ll risk grainy fudge and limp candies. It is such a simple thing to heat your candy mixture to the proper temperature and not have to fuss with all that soft-ball and hard-ball, mixture in cold water business.
9 x 13-inch baking pans – I have four. My favorite has a domed lid which allows for lots of fluffy icing. I have metal ones for baking and heavy ceramic and glass ones for cooking main dishes and casseroles.
I have a confession: I can’t make gravy. Growing up we had gravy every time we had mashed potatoes, all kinds of delicious gravy from chicken to roast beef to turkey. I can remember well my mother’s standing at the stove whisking a slurry of corn starch and water into the meat drippings.
When I first got married, I tried making gravy. Instead of nice, smooth, rich gravy, I had goopy, lumpy, greasy ickiness. My husband, who normally eats everything in sight, wouldn’t even touch it. For the next several years, I used gravy mix that came in packs. Just add water and you have gravy. Only it was really terrible too.
Next I tried jarred gravy. A step up from the packets but there was always an off taste that screamed not-homemade. For years I bought this kind of gravy whenever I had guests for dinner. Maybe I could pull off passable gravy and maybe I’d have to reach for the jarred stuff. I never took a chance.
My husband and I eat our mashed potatoes plain or maybe with a pat of butter. We’ve given up on gravy. The only problem with that is one must have gravy for Thanksgiving dinner. Really. I think it is a law.
On many Thanksgivings, I’d always ask my mother to make the gravy at the last minute. She was usually dressed up and it wasn’t very nice of me to ask her to risk getting gravy all over herself. But as always her gravy was good and everyone poured it on.
Then a few years ago Woman’s Day magazine had an article on fool-proof gravy. I tried it and it worked. The gravy was beautifully smooth, tasty and the recipe made a lot. And most of the work was done in advance. I’ve used the recipe ever since.
Since the holidays are coming up and your family might be expecting gravy, I want to share the gravy recipe with you. If your gravy isn’t the best, try it this way. I usually start this as soon as the turkey goes in the oven. It simmers gently while I'm doing other things and since nothing else needs the stovetop at that time, it doesn't cause congestion.
Turkey neck and giblets
6 cups chicken broth
2 large onions, sliced
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup dry white wine or water
½ cup celery leaves
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
¾ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the first six ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours.
Remove the giblets to a cutting board. Strain the broth into a large cup measure, pressing the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the veggies. Add extra water to the broth if needed to make 6 cups. Chop the giblets and neck meat. Refrigerate them.
Mash the butter and flour with a fork until blended into a paste. Break it into 4 chunks.
Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to low and gradually whisk in the flour mixture, 1 chunk at a time until well blended. Whisk until thickened and boiling. Boil for 3 minutes to cook out any floury taste. At this point, I usually take the gravy outside to cool and wait until needed. If it isn’t cold where you are, of course, stick it in the fridge.
After the turkey is cooked, pour the pan drippings into a 2-cup glass measure. Spoon the fat from the top and discard. Add enough water to equal 2 cups. Pour the mixture back into the roasting pan. Stir in the giblets and neck meat. Heat over medium-low heat scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, until hot. Season to taste. Serves 12.
When preparing for a tea, a party, when hosting a fundraiser dinner or a dinner for friends in your home, lists can help you keep your sanity. You won’t have to suffer that feeling of having something in the back of your mind telling you that you’ve forgotten something. With lists, you’ll know for certain what you must do and when.
Start your list keeping with the names, addresses and phone numbers of the guests you’ve invited. You’ll be able to see who has responded, who is definitely coming to your party and whom you need to phone. You can then give the list to your honored guest, in cases of a bridal or baby shower, so she can have a handy way to address her thank you cards.
The next list should be the food list. Decide what foods you want to serve and write them down. By listing them, you can see if you have too many similar foods or ingredients. You don’t want every dish to be rich with cream cheese or sour cream; watch out for that. Mix up the flavors, the colors, the ingredients. Try at least one new dish.
The shopping list is very important. After you’ve chosen the foods you want to serve, write down every ingredient you’ll need. Don’t just guess. Pull the recipe to be sure you have everything written down. It will be a snap to see that you’ll need two dozen eggs total and you won’t over or under buy.
It's not a list but I suggest printing out all the recipes you'll be using for your party. It often takes valuable time to locate a specific recipe if you have lots of cookbooks and cooking magazines. With all the recipes at hand, you'll be able to quickly check baking times, ingredients and special instructions. Just be sure to double check that you've typed everything correctly.
Once you have your shopping list, break it down into lists of the individual stores you’ll be visiting. A wholesale club is great for bulk purchases but their selection is limited. A place like Walmart has good prices on many things. Your deli, your bakery, your farmers’ market might all be on your shopping list. If you are familiar with the layout of the store, arrange your shopping list aisle by aisle. This will save missing something and having to retrace your steps. Cross off each item as you put it in your cart.
The to-do list is where you can write down all those ideas that come to you when you’re doing something else, like sleeping. Keep this list close by and when you remember that you need to borrow that platter from your Aunt Betty, write it down. It is a comfort to see items being checked off this list and knowing you haven’t forgotten anything.
The next list is the master food list. It has the following categories: the food item, the day you’ll prepare that item, a block for checking off a completed item, any special to-do instructions, the pan you’ll cook the item in, how you’ll store the item from the time you prepare it until the time you’re ready to serve it and the dish you’ll use to serve it. As you fill this in, you’ll probably adjust your timing. It is easy to get too many foods that need to be in the oven at the same time so switch them around or make them and freeze. The same is true with refrigerator space; make certain you’ll have room for everything. With this list you’ll be certain you have enough space, time and serving pieces.
The final lists are daily time sheets. You’ll need these on heavy cooking and baking days and the days before the party. Include not only the time schedule for the food but also things like getting out the punch bowl, ironing the tablecloth, going to the florist and even getting your hair cut. On party day, you’ll know exactly when the main dish goes in the oven, when the dessert must come out of the freezer and when you need to put the water on to boil for tea.
You’ll see your lists evolve and change as you decide to drop or add dishes. Keeping the lists on your computer works well but you’ll need hard copies that you can carry around with you. I keep mine together on a clip board.
You can even keep a list of things that went well and things you’ll do differently in the future. Don’t throw your lists away after the party. They will be great resources for future parties. For example, I keep my Thanksgiving lists from year to year since that menu rarely changes. I don’t have to write a store list and I know that the baked corn goes in the oven at 11:15.
If you too are a list keeper, you’ll understand my methods but if you never keep lists, you’ll probably think I’m a little compulsive. Give lists a try though and you’ll see how much they help you get ready for your party and reduce your party anxiety.