Bless Your Spoon: Enjoy tea in the garden — a variety of spreads for bread

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, June 1, 2023

By Stephanie Williams Dean

When I hear of tea parties, taxation doesn’t come to mind but finger foods and tidbit trays do. As a child, my favorite pastime was sharing cups of tea with my small Madame Alexander doll named Little Genius. My sister and neighborhood friends would gather their dolls around the table and a party was on. Mamma made a few pick-up treats and all were served with warm-brewed tea. We pretended to be refined ladies while donning Mamma’s white cotton gloves and raising our pinkies in the air.

The old-fashioned tea party was the perfect way to entertain and a hassle-free way of doing it. So, let’s rethink that get-together — updating and remaking the grand event into a more casual way of enjoying guests at home.

Plan to serve an easily assembled, variety of finger sandwiches filled with different fruit and veggie spreads straight from the week’s local farmer’s market — or even better, your own garden. Take any of today’s spread recipes and use them as a base. Add broccolini, cauliflower florets, shredded carrots, thinly sliced onions, etc. to any sandwich and pile it on. Take your finger foods from dainty to gourmet, from an ultra-thin, delicate and light tea sandwich perfect for morning or afternoon tea to one more filling that can stand in as a meal

Couple the filled bread shapes with a few sweet dessert tidbits — jam tarts, cookies, cake bites, scones with jams, marmalades, honey, sweet butter and fresh whole berries. Prepare in advance, wrap in plastic and chill prior to serving on the tea table.

Goodies appear homemade and taste better when attractively served from vintage platters, a trio of plates on multi-serve stands, or in linen-lined baskets. In keeping with a few traditions, find vintage tidbit trays and porcelain platters at antique stores. Serve finger foods with icy-cold lemonades or cold brewed teas mixed with fresh fruit juices and pour from pretty, colorful pitchers and now you’re having a modern-day tea party.

One of the easiest, stress-free ways to entertain at home, the party’s also perfect for morning or afternoon, indoors or out. On these cool, spring mornings, why not sit outside in your garden? Rethink the vintage, lace tablecloth by adding a bright floral one instead that adds that touch of modern pop and pizzazz to your green landscape. All will set the mood for a delightful occasion.

Consider partnering your party with an activity — a Bible lesson, garden walk, drawing or paint class, or Table Talk game for newcomers — one that will encourage interaction among your friends. Inviting someone new into your circle is always hospitable and kind. When the party’s over, a delivery of leftovers will make any homebound, sick or grieving friend feel better.

Recently, members of the Renegade Writers Guild gathered at our local bakery and tea house for a monthly writing workshop. Adequately fueled with delicious savories and sweets and filled cups of steamy hibiscus tea, the writers hammered out creative words. We took a break at noon, tasting small bites and sipping steamy teas. One tier of plates held mini chicken pies, scones, Danish fruit confections, a pat of butter and a spread of jam. Fancy nibbles of chocolate cake with cocoa fudge icing followed by shortbread cookie squares covered with whipped cream topping — all decorated with tiny edible flowers. Unlike my modernized rendition of the tea party, if you crave a more elegant affair, the bakery and tea house will serve one up. The party is a fancy one, and even though it’s now out of style, you might want to raise the pinkie one final time.

Tart and Pie Pastry

• 1 cup chilled, salted butter

• 3 ½ cup all-purpose flour

• ¼ tsp. salt

• 1 beaten egg

• ¼ cup Wesson vegetable oil

• ½ cup cold water

In a bowl, combine flour and salt. Use pastry blender to cut in sliced chilled butter until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Set aside. In a bowl, combine egg, oil and water. Using a fork, stir egg mixture into flour mixture until well blended. Divide dough in half and shape into two balls. Wrap in plastic foil and refrigerate 1 hour. Roll out pastry about 1/8 inch thick or thinner. Use pastry cutter or glass to cut pastry into 3-inch circles. Press pastry circles into 2-inch tart pans or muffin cups. Trim tops even with tart pan. Prick sides and bottom with fork tines. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Or fill with favorite chicken filling for pot pie and bake according to recipe. Makes 2 9-inch pastry shells or 40 tart shells.

Chicken Fruit and Nut Filling

• 2 cups finely chopped, cooked chicken

• ¼ cup finely chopped celery

• 1 small peeled, coarse-grated apple

• 1 Tbsp. chopped chives

• 2 tsp. curry powder

• ¼ cup finely chopped pecans

• ¼ tsp. salt, to taste

• 1/3 cup premium mayonnaise

• Tart shells

In a bowl, combine chicken, celery, apple, chives, curry powder, pecans and salt with just enough mayonnaise to hold together. Fill tart shells.

Dressing for Salad Greens

• 3 Tbsp. olive oil

• 2 Tbsp. walnut or hazelnut oil

• 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

• 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

• 1 tsp. salt

• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a bowl, combine olive oil, walnut oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk all ingredients together. A special dressing for all leafy greens or to go over any cooked vegetables.

Fruit Cookie Squares

• 1 package refrigerated sugar cookie dough

• 8 ounce softened cream cheese

• 7 ounce marshmallow crème

• Assorted bite-sized fresh fruit

• 1 jar strawberry glaze

Slice cookie dough and arrange on lightly greased 9-inch rectangular pan. Press to form a crust. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or until browned. Completely cool. In a mixer bowl, whip cream cheese and marshmallow crème. Spread over the cookie crust. Cut into squares. Place cut pieces of fresh fruit on each square. Using a decorated tube, drizzle the glaze over top.

Frosted Chocolate Cake Bites

• ¾ cup Crisco shortening

• 2 cups sugar

• 2 eggs

• 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

• ½ cup Hershey’s baking cocoa

• 1 tsp. salt

• 2 tsp. soda

• 1 cup buttermilk

• 1 cup boiling water

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a mixer bowl, cream shortening. Add sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, thoroughly mixing after each addition. Add flour, salt and soda while alternating with buttermilk, boiling water and vanilla. Mix well. Bake in a greased and floured 9 x 13 cake pan in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until cake tests done. Don’t overbake. Ice with a fudgy frosting. Cut into 1 ½-inch squares and serve individually in cupcake wrappers.

Curried Egg and Onion Spread

• 6 peeled, chopped hard-boiled eggs

• 2 Tbsp. minced onion

• 2 Tbsp. minced celery

• 1 Tbsp. dry mustard

• 1/8 cup plain yogurt

• 1/8 cup premium mayonnaise

• 1 tsp. curry powder

• watercress

In a bowl, combine chopped eggs, onion, celery and dry mustard. Mix well. In another bowl, mix ¼ cup of dressing with equal amounts of yogurt and mayonnaise and added curry powder. Combine dressing with the egg mixture, toss and blend well. Serve with a piece of watercress on whole wheat sandwich bread.

Olive Onion and Prosciutto Spread

• 24 ounce softened cream cheese

• 1 bunch chopped fresh green onions

• 1 can chopped black olives

• Fresh thinly sliced mushrooms

• Cut prosciutto

• Loaf of thinly sliced white bread

In a mixer bowl, whip cream cheese. Add green onions, olives, mushrooms and prosciutto. Mix well. Trim crusts from bread.  Spread bread slice with cream cheese mixture and top with remaining bread. Cut into fancy shapes.

Green-Butter Sandwiches

• 1 stick softened salted butter

• 12 ounces chopped, cooked, fresh spinach

• 1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

• 2 tsp. finely chopped capers

• Anchovies (optional)

Combine chopped spinach, parsley and capers. Add just enough softened butter until spreadable for sandwich filling.

Cream Cheese and Beets

• Softened cream cheese

• Finely chopped beets

• French dressing

Spread a piece of bread with cream cheese. Spread the other with finely chopped beets that have been seasoned with French dressing. Press together.

Epicurean Sandwich

• 4 Tbsp. softened salted butter

• 1 tsp. mustard

• 2 egg yolks

• 4 chopped anchovies

• 4 chopped sweet midget pickles

• 1 tsp. chopped chives

• Chopped sprig of tarragon

Cream butter and mustard. Mash yolks and add to butter mixture. Add anchovies, pickles and chives and tarragon. Cut bread into shapes and spread with mixture. Press two bread pieces together.

Peppers and Beef Spread

• 8 ounces softened cream cheese

• ½ finely chopped yellow pepper

• ½ finely chopped red pepper

• 3 Tbsp. finely chopped onions

• 6 slices, cut ½-inch, dried beef

In a bowl, whip cream cheese until fluffy. Add pepper, onion and cut-up dried beef. Spread on bread and cut into shapes.

Vegetable Sandwich Spread

• 8 ounce softened cream cheese

• 2 Tbsp. premium mayonnaise

• 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• ¼ cup finely chopped onion

• ¼ cup finely chopped celery

• ¼ cup finely chopped green pepper

• ¾ cup grated carrots

• ¼ cup finely chopped seedless cucumber

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a mixer bowl, whip cream cheese until fluffy. Add mayonnaise and fresh lemon juice. Chop by hand the onion, celery, green pepper, carrots and seedless cucumber and drain cucumber. Don’t use electric processor as spread will be too runny. Mix well by hand. Salt and pepper to taste. Spread on bread and cut into desired shapes.

Sweet French Fruit Sandwich

• Chopped cherries, plums pineapple, other fresh fruits

• Wine, orange, or lemon juices

• Softened salted butter

• Marmalade

Spread bread lightly with butter. Spread thin layer of marmalade over butter. Finely chop candied fruits and moisten with wine, orange or lemon juice. Add fruits on top of marmalade. Use just enough butter and marmalade to keep fruits adhered. Use sweet breads or ladyfingers for a sweeter sandwich.

Spread of Shrimp Parsley and Onion

• 4 ounce softened cream cheese

• 2 tbsp. premium mayonnaise

• 1 tsp. chopped onion

• 1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley

• Dash or Worcestershire sauce, to taste

• 5 ounces finely chopped shrimp

In a mixer bowl, beat cream cheese and mayo together. Add chopped onion and fresh parsley with a dash of Worcestershire, to taste. Add just enough mixture to shrimp to easily spread. Spread on bread slices or can use to stuff celery.

Herb Seasoning for Sandwiches

• ½ tsp. cayenne pepper

• 1 Tbsp. garlic powder

• 1 tsp. each basil, sage, marjoram, thyme, parsley, savory

• 1 tsp. each mace, onion powder, black pepper

In a container, combine cayenne pepper, garlic powder and 1 tsp. of each basil, sage, marjoram, thyme, parsley, savory, mace, onion powder and black pepper. Use as a replacement for salt. Store in shaker container. Sprinkle on top of all spreads for breads.

Blue Cheese and Carrot Spread

• 1 large package softened cream cheese

• 2 grated carrots

• 1 finely grated onion

• 3 Tbsp. blue cheese salad dressing

In a mixer bowl, whip the cream cheese until fluffy. Add grated carrots and finely grated onion. Mix well. Fold in blue cheese and mix well.

Cheddar and Apple

• Bread slices

• Premium mayonnaise

• Thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese

• Thinly sliced Granny Smith apple

Spread bread with premium mayonnaise. Top with thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese. Top cheese with paper-thin slices of a Granny Smith/tart apple. Spread slice of bread with softened sweet butter and top with bread slice. Cut into desired shapes.

Cottage Cheese Spread

• 1 stick softened, salted butter

• 8 ounces cottage cheese

• ½ cup plain yogurt

• 1 Tbsp. finely chopped onions

• 1 tsp. small capers

• 1 tsp. caraway seed

• 1 Tbsp. paprika

• 1 tsp. dry mustard

• Salt and pepper, to taste

In a mixer bowl, cream butter. Add cottage cheese that’s been drained well. Mix well. Add yogurt, onions, small capers, caraway seed, paprika, dry mustard, and salt and pepper, to taste. Mix well. Serve on thinly sliced rye or pumpernickel breads.