Sunday, January 5, 2014

Time For Tea … and Downton Abbey

In a recent post, I had mentioned something about not having time to follow a television series with any regularity. As it turns out, that is really only a partial truth. For me, there is one exception to that claim, and that is Downton Abbey. Although I am a bit of a latecomer to the series (began watching Seasons 1 & 2 right after Christmas last year), I have to admit that I am rather enamored with the show. I love the costumes, the manner in which historical events are incorporated into the show, and the screenwriting, especially Lady Violet's lines. 

Since the close of Season 3 last February, I have been eagerly counting down the days to the start of Season 4 (well, maybe not literally, but you get the idea). Now that the start of Season 4 is upon us here in the US, I thought it only fitting to mark the day with an English-style tea party. My tea parties most likely don't exactly meet Downton standards, but here are a few pictures and recipes that you may wish to use in creating your own tea party.

Dill Dip
Since discovering this recipe, it has become my "stand by," and I can't remember the last time I made dip using Hidden Valley Ranch mix. The exact amounts will vary based on how much you make, but part of the fun is seasoning this dip to fit your tastes.

  • Equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise - for the most part, I don't measure these but rather eyeball the amounts. Often I will start with roughly 1/2 cup of each.
  • Dried dill weed. I typically start with about 2 teaspoons and then can add more if needed.
  • Garlic powder. I prefer powder over fresh so that I get just a hint of garlic flavor rather than have it overpower the other flavors. I tend to use 1/8 teaspoon or less.
  • Dried parsley. I tend to start with about 1 teaspoon and then adjust as needed.
  • Dried onion flakes. This is optional based on your tastes. I typically take about 1/2 teaspoon and crumble them a bit more in my fingers before adding them.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir all ingredients together. Chill for an hour or two so that flavors can meld together and serve.

Cucumber Sandwiches
What would an English tea party be without cucumber sandwiches? Although easy to make, these sandwiches do take some time to prepare. 

  • Peel a cucumber and slice it very thinly. Place the slices on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt to allow the cucumbers to "sweat" for about 1/2 hour or more. Blot the excess liquid from the slices.
  • Spread the bread of your choice with a thin layer of cream cheese. I prefer to use a heavier bread that won't fall apart when I spread the cream cheese.
  • Place a double layer of cream cheese on the bread. Top with another slice of bread that has been spread with cream cheese. Cut into small squares or triangles prior to serving.

Deviled Ham Toasts

I discovered this recipe a few years ago in one of my English tea books. I am providing the American adjustments to the ingredients and measurements.
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • One 5 oz can of smoked ham, drained
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the remaining ingredients and warm through. Spread meat mixture on bread as either an open-faced or traditional sandwich. Cut into small squares or triangles before serving.

Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread is actually a traditional Scottish dessert comprised primarily of butter, sugar, and flour. Shortbread is traditionally shaped into a large circle which is divided into wedges, small circles, or oblong rectangles. As you can see from the picture, I have topped the cookies with a dollop of sweetened whipping cream and fresh raspberries.

  • 1.5 cups butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Mix the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the vanilla. Mix the flour and salt together and combine into the sugar/butter/vanilla mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. You may also need to mix the dough together with your hands. Note that it will appear very dry and crumbly. Once the dough is thoroughly combined, wrap it in plastic and allow it to chill for about 30 minutes. 
Roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes as desired. I used the rim of a drinking glass to cut my dough into circles. Bake on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet for 20 minutes at 350 degrees until edges begin to turn brown.