I envy the British, who enjoy four meals a day. I wish I had the time to take a break between lunch and dinner for an enticing selection of finger sandwiches and pastries, a fortifying cup of strongly brewed tea and maybe a flute of champagne.
This Mother's Day is my chance for a little tea service. I'll be treating my mom, and myself, to a modernized version of this British standby, with updated recipes for a less formal, more intimate midafternoon meal.
Scones are a must, but they don't have to be stuffy. So I'll add some cornmeal to mine for crunch, and dried cherries for zing. Miniature trifles, assembled in shot glasses and eaten with demitasse spoons, are a cute way to serve a traditional combination.
Instead of British classics such as cucumber sandwiches, there will be trendy bites with international flavors, including pastrami sliders, mini shrimp tacos and asparagus pizzas.
As for the tea, I'll brew a fresh pot, and serve it in the form of champagne cocktails sweetened with a tea-infused syrup and garnished with lemon slices.
Arrange all the food on a table or sidebar, using your best serving pieces. Cheerio.
HOW TO BREW TEA
A tea bag may suffice for your morning go-cup, but only loose tea, brewed properly in a teapot, will do for your special Mother's Day party.
1. Buy your tea from a reputable source, so you know the leaves are fresh and of high quality. Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of loose tea leaves for every 6 ounces of water.
2. Place the loose tea in a teapot with a built-in strainer.
3. Measure your water and heat it to the proper temperature. For black or oolong tea, the water should just come to a boil, but not a rolling boil. For green and white teas, a temperature of 180 degrees, just below boiling, is hot enough. Water that is too hot may burn the leaves and compromise their delicate flavor.
4. Steep the tea leaves long enough so they infuse the water with flavor, but not so long that the tea becomes bitter. White and green teas should steep for 2 to 4 minutes. Black and Oolong teas will take from 3 to 6 minutes. Pour the hot tea into cups and enjoy.
SPARKLING SWEET TEA COCKTAILS
6 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon loose black tea leaves
1 bottle champagne or sparkling wine
6 lemon slices
1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, stir in tea; let stand 15 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer into a glass measuring cup, cover and refrigerate until chilled.
2. Divide the syrup among 6 champagne flutes. Top each with chilled champagne and garnish glasses with lemon slices. Serve immediately. Makes 6 drinks.
CORNMEAL CHERRY SCONES
Serve these with lightly sweetened crème fraîche on the side.
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter, cut into bits and chilled
1/4 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons sanding sugar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add butter to bowl and, with an electric mixer on low, mix until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cherries.
3. Add the egg, sour cream and milk and mix just until a rough dough forms.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured countertop. With a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 3/4-inch thickness. Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut into rounds.
5. Transfer rounds to baking sheet, sprinkle with sanding sugar, if desired, and bake until scones are risen and pale golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool and serve warm with cherry preserves and crème fraîche on the side. Makes 8 to 10 mini scones.
MINI BANANA-CHOCOLATE CHIP LOAVES
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (from 3 ripe bananas)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini-loaf pan will spaces for 8 loaves or a 12-well muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the bananas, butter, eggs, sour cream and vanilla.
4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just moistened. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.
5. Divide the batter among the mini-loaf pans or muffin cups, smooth the tops with a spatula and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a mini loaf or muffin comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes in the pan, overturn mini loaves or muffins onto a wire rack, turn right-side up and let cool completely. Makes 8 mini loaves or 12 muffins.
MINI RICOTTA AND ASPARAGUS PIZZAS
1 pound frozen pizza dough, thawed
3/4 cup full-fat ricotta cheese
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed, halved lengthwise if thick, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. On a lightly floured countertop, shape each piece into a ball, then flatten into a 4-inch circle. Place on baking sheets.
3. Combine the ricotta, garlic, lemon zest, Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Spread the cheese mixture over the pizzas. Scatter the asparagus over the cheese. Drizzle with the olive oil.
4. Bake until the crusts are golden and the cheese is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes, switching the position of the sheets midway through. Makes 6 pizzas.
MINI SHRIMP AND AVOCADO TACOS
8 (6-inch) round corn tortillas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 1 / 4-inch dice
3 tablespoons lime juice, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1/4 pound cooked shrimp, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1 teaspoon finely chopped chipotle chili in adobo
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon roasted pepitas (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a wire rack with wire running in just one direction (not a rack with a grid pattern) on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter to cut 16 circles from the tortillas. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place the circles on the rack and bake until soft, 2 minutes. Bend the circles over the wires on the rack and bake until crisp, another 8 to 12 minutes. Let taco shells cool completely on rack.
3. Combine the avocado, 2 tablespoons lime juice and onion in a medium bowl. Season with a pinch of salt. Combine the shrimp, mayonnaise, remaining tablespoon lime juice and chipotle chili in another bowl. Season with a pinch of salt.
4. Spoon some avocado into each taco shell. Top with shrimp. Sprinkle with cilantro and pepitas, if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 16 mini tacos.
1/2 pound thinly sliced pastrami
12 slider buns or mini potato rolls
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
1/2 cup coleslaw
2 ounces thinly sliced Swiss cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap pastrami in aluminum foil and heat until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Preheat broiler. Split and toast buns. Spread some butter on the bottom half of each bun. Spread some mustard over the butter. Spoon a tablespoonful of coleslaw over the bottom halves of the buns. Top with warmed pastrami and a piece of cheese. Place untopped sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil just until the cheese melts. Top with the top halves of the buns. Serve immediately. Makes 12 sliders.
MINI RASPBERRY-CHEESECAKE TRIFLES
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sour cream
12 (1-inch-square) pieces frozen pound cake
1/4 cup raspberry jam
1/4 cup heavy cream
1. Combine the cream cheese, 3 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla and sour cream in the bowl of an electric mixer; beat until smooth.
2. Push a square of pound cake into the bottom of a shot glass. Spoon a heaping teaspoonful of cheesecake mixture over the cake. Spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the cheesecake.
3. Whip the cream with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar until it holds soft peaks. Spoon some of the cream on top of the jam. Refrigerate 1 to 3 hours. Just before serving, top each trifle with a raspberry. Makes 12 mini trifles.