Weekend Fare: Summer Drinks

I love summery, fruit drinks. They are great for an afternoon playdate, for an evening dinner party, or a casual cookout. These are both incredibly easy and wonderful! My favorite was the strawberry lemonade – so fresh and delicious.  

FRUIT TEA
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1 1/2 qts. black tea
2-11 oz. cans fruit nectar (I used peach)
Sugar to taste
Mint Leaves
Fresh or Frozen Fruit

Combine tea, fruit nectar, and sugar. Serve over ice and garnish with mint and fruit. Serves 4-6. 

STRAWBERRY LEMONADE
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1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. water
8-10 strawberries, halved
1 c. sparkling water
ice
mint

Combine sugar, lemon juice, and water – stir until sugar is dissolved. Add strawberries and juice to the blender and pulse. Add sparkling water and blend until smooth. Serve over ice and garnish with fresh mint. Serves 3-4.

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Tea Time: Spring Tea

Finding myself newly married, enduring my first gray Pittsburgh winter, and holed up in a tiny second-floor apartment surrounded by concrete, I decided to invent a family tradition: tea on the first day of spring. I can’t remember what the menu was for that first tea, but I remember spending a good bit of time preparing and then pulling out the teacups for my husband and I to enjoy the feast together.

Over the years our tea has changed. Many years it is now just the children and I who partake as my husband might be busy with work. One year I was too sick to bake anything and I think we had to buy a baked good to enjoy. Two things are now absolute tradition: we use the early spring flowers embroidered tablecloth I found one day in a secondhand shop and we always have strawberries. On the day of spring tea I don’t care that strawberries are out of season and taste like watery styrofoam. They are a harbinger of things to come and that’s what our spring tea is all about.

CREAM FILLED STRAWBERRIES
(Heather)
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2 pounds strawberries
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. lemon zest (optional)
chocolate to decorate (optional)

Wash strawberries. Cut a tiny bit off the bottom of each berry so it can stand on a plate. Cut the green leaves off the top and, using a strawberry huller or small melon baller, gouge out a bit of the inside of the strawberry.

Soften the cream cheese and beat in an electric mixer until smooth. Add the heavy whipping cream and sugar as well as lemon zest if using. Beat until the cream and cream cheese combine and thicken. Transfer cream cheese mixture to a piping bag and pipe into the strawberries. Refrigerate if not eating immediately. Optionally, you can add a flake of chocolate to the top of each strawberry.

Off The Shelf: The Essential Tea Companion

The Essential Tea Companion is a gorgeous little book published by the makers of Victoria Magazine. It is exactly the kind of book you want to flip through and think thoughts of spring, tea, and friendship. Photos grace each page spread and give you a feast for your eyes while at the same time telling you how to create an edible feast for yourself and your friends.

The book is divided into five sections: Getting Acquainted with Tea, Making Time for Tea, Tea and Special Occasions, More Delightful Recipes for Tea and Treats, and Resources. Sprinkled throughout the book are the recipes, which include: Raisin and Nut Scones, Tomato and Goat Cheese Sandwiches, Poppy Seed Jam Tarts, Honey Tea Sandwiches, Butter Sponge Cake, Rose Petal Scones, and Lemon Thyme Bread to name just a few.

I chose to try the Cucumber Sandwiches with Mint Butter. The recipe seemed a perfect thing to serve in spring and I couldn’t help but add a bit of lemon zest to the mint butter since lemon pepper is one of my favorite companions to cucumbers. The result was very refreshing.

CUCUMBER SANDWICHES WITH MINT BUTTER
(The Essential Tea Companion)
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1/4 cup butter, softened
2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
8 very thin slices white bread, crusts removed (I used a White Wholegrain loaf from Pepperidge Farms)
1/2 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced (I prefer the English cucumber for this sandwich)
1/2 to 1 tsp. lemon zest (optional)
freshly grated pepper (optional)

Burnet sprigs and ripe black olives (optional)

In a small bowl, combine butter, mint and lemon zest along with the pepper if you are using that. Spread the mint butter on the bread slices. Lay the cucumbers on four of the slices and top with the remaining bread to make four sandwiches. Cut in half diagonally and then in half again. Or, cut into three long rectangles. Just before serving, garnish the sandwiches with burnet sprigs and olives, if desired.

Irish Tea Cake & a Giveaway!

Tea is quite British and so in keeping with our Irish theme, here is a delicious and easy tea cake. My husband described it as a sugar cookie cake – meaning he really liked it. It’s delicious served warm or at room temperature. Tea is traditional but it would also make a wonderful accompaniment to coffee. You could top it with seasonal berries for the summer or fresh whipped cream but I really enjoyed it with just the powdered sugar!


IRISH TEA CAKE
(Recipe adapted very slightly from allrecipes.com)
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1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch round pan.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into the batter alternately with the milk. It’s a very thick batter. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack, then turn out onto a serving plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar right before serving.

We are also having a giveaway! Heather makes beautiful tea cozies (which are available in her wonderful etsy store) and so today we are giving away this gorgeous small tea cozy. It’s perfect for keeping your tea  warm! Heather recommends Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea for enjoying at tea time.

To enter:
– Leave a comment telling us your favorite tea or hot drink – one per person, please.
– For additional entries:
   1) Follow us on twitter – @CooksNextDoor
   2) Blog about this giveaway.
   3) Facebook about this giveaway.
   4) Join our facebook group.
– That makes a total of five entry opportunities. If you already follow us on twitter or are in our fb group, just leave us a comment letting us know and we will add the extra entries!
– This drawing will be open until Thursday night.

Enter away! Enjoy!

Tea Time: Orange Whole-Wheat Scones

This time of year is when we want something warm and comforting, but also healthy, having just come out of the abundance of the holiday season. Orange Whole-Wheat Scones fit the bill, providing the comfort of a warm scone with the assurance that the whole-wheat and honey are doing your body good, not evil. To make your tea-time even healthier, consider drinking an herbal tea such as Orange Spice, or perhaps some decaf Constant Comment.

ORANGE WHOLE-WHEAT SCONES
(originally from The Kitchen of Two Sisters)

2 ½ c. whole wheat pastry flour (preferrably ground fresh, but store-bought whole-wheat flour will do)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ c. butter
2 Tbsp. honey (or try agave nectar)
¼ c. orange juice
2 tsp. grated orange rind
¼ c. milk

Preheat oven to 400F. Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in butter and rub in with fingers until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine wet ingredients and add to flour mixture, mixing lightly to combine. If dough feels too wet, add just a bit more flour. Knead dough lightly and pat out on a flat surface. Cut rounds or triangles.

Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes.

Makes 12.

Entertaining 101: Holiday Tea

I love a good tea party! Whether it is impromptu with my children with only cups of tea and toast, or planned a few days in advance with a friend or two, or a big, fancy affair with lots of people and a buffet full of tea foods. Christmas is a perfect time to bring out the teacups and sit down with someone special to drink in a few moments of the passing season.

So many of the holiday foods are well-suited for a tea party: cookies, cheese ball and crackers, chocolate truffles, muffins, cranberry-orange tea loaf, squares of gingerbread, chicken salad sandwiches with dried cranberries, cut pineapple sprinkled with lime zest, homemade candies or chocolate dipped pretzels, etc.  Holiday teas abound too. Think Gingerbread, Earl Grey, Orange Spice, Constant Comment (which now comes in decaf!!!), Chai, Sugar Cookie, or Candy Cane Lane.

Several recipes that I particularly like around the holidays are Gingerbread Muffins, Cranberry Bread, and Scottish Shortbread. Every year I watched my mother make her ritual batch of shortbread, using the handwritten recipe card from her grandmother who had immigrated from Scotland. It is simple but rich and is a perfect accompaniment to tea.

Gingerbread muffins are a wonderful invention. Doesn’t everyone want to smell gingerbread scents wafting from their oven? Muffins are easy to make and easy to serve with the same delightful aroma of real gingerbread.

GINGERBREAD MUFFINS
(cooksrecipes.com)

1 ½ c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 egg
1/3 c. oil
¼ c. molasses
1/3 c. sugar
½ c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line muffin tin. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. In another bowl, beat egg, oil, molasses and sugar, mixing well. Pour mixture into flour mixture. Mix until just moistened; add boiling water and mix until just blended. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins are done. Makes 12.

(Note: the pillow-like object behind the teapot is a “tea cozy”. You can find them for sale here.)

SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD
(Grandmother Christina Winterbottom)

6 c. flour (if you like more texture, you can substitute 1 cup of flour for 1 cup of rice flour)
1 c. sugar
2 c. butter, softened (I prefer salted butter here)

Mix the flour and sugar together then incorporate the butter – this must be done with hands to soften the butter into the flour mixture. Mix with hands until soft and doughy. Depending on the softness of your butter, this may take 5-15 minutes.

Spread dough in a 10×15” pan and prick evenly with a fork (allowing the fork to touch the bottom of the pan).

Bake 1 hour at 325F until edges just begin to golden – cut into 1-inch squares or 2-inch fingers while hot.

CRANBERRY BREAD
(bowlofmush.blogspot.com)

2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. orange juice
2 Tbsp. butter or vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. roughly chopped fresh cranberries
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Chop the cranberries and walnuts and set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the orange juice, orange zest, egg, vanilla and butter. Fold in the chopped cranberries and walnuts.

Spread the mixture evenly in the greased loaf pan and bake in the oven at 350F for 55 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. Will cut best if left to rest for several hours.