May it Please the Palate: Tea Sandwiches

Several trips to Oxford, England, where my oldest daughter once lived, gave me an affinity for a formal afternoon tea at the Grand Café on High Street. I was fascinated by the three-tiered trays, laden with crustless sandwiches and sweets, jams and clotted cream.

Now that my daughter is back in Ann Arbor, so is afternoon tea. Recently a shop called "Tea Haus" opened two blocks from my office, and with a day's notice, they will serve tea with all the goodies. I took my litigation team there last week, where we said goodbye to a colleague, and gorged ourselves on all the sandwiches: brie and apricot, watercress and cucumber, salmon and cream cheese, egg salad, and salami. Not to mention the scones, clotted cream, jam, and tea.

Coincidentally, I had agreed to provide the food for my middle daughter's baby shower the next day. With about 18 hours to food delivery time, I had not even decided what to make. But at Tea Haus, It hit me that these tea sandwiches might be just the ticket.

The shower was from 2-4 p.m. on a Saturday. I provided 10 dishes. Two were shortcuts: store-bought cocktail shrimp, and delicious spinach pie baked by the ladies at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, $16 a tray, frozen and ready for the oven. The other eight dishes I made. I went with stuffed mushrooms (January 31, 2012), which were a hit even though I forgot the cheese. I added vegetarian stuffed grape leaves (subject of a future column, because I am still tinkering with this recipe). The token salad was fresh spring asparagus, quickly parboiled and served chilled over mixed greens with a lemon vinaigrette.

But the main event was those tea sandwiches. First order of business was getting the right bread. Pepperidge Farm has some thin sliced bread that is perfectly suited for these, including wheat and white. I also got a small loaf of pumpernickel, and I found some extra-cute thin sliced bagels and soft pita. The stuffers were: (1) egg salad; (2) watercress, cucumber, and cream cheese; (3) pimiento cheese; (4) salmon, cream cheese, chive, and dill; and (5) for vegans, hummus with thinly sliced pickle and radish. (The latter constituted the bulk of the leftovers. The others went quickly.)

A few tips on the stuffers. First, the egg salad. You want it finer than typical for smaller sandwiches. Dice the eggs small, skip the celery, and use chopped spring onion and plenty of dill. A touch of Dijon mustard gives the mayonnaise a nice boost.

The pimiento cheese--a half lb. block of cheddar; a jar of diced pimiento; some mayo and a bit of sour cream; a touch of diced onion; and a teaspoon of seasoning salt. Blend to not too runny a texture in the food processor.

The watercress and cucumber was easy. I peeled the cukes, sliced them thin, and lay them on spread cream cheese with a layer of watercress. Watercress is a leafy green vegetable with large leaves on long stems, and a peppery taste. (It's also quite tasty in the egg salad.)

The above three sandwiches were divided by thirds on the white, wheat and pumpernickel. I sliced off the crusts and cut the remaining sandwiches in half (the crusts later served for my cook's snack).

The smoked salmon was served on the thin bagels with cream cheese and plenty of fresh chopped chives and dill.

As for the hummus ... ah, forget it. You know it seems to be replacing peanut butter as an inexpensive and quick sandwich spread. Not so special for a party, much less a fancy tea party.

Fortunately, given the tight time frame, I was spared making dessert. The hostess of my daughter's shower took care of that, with adorable little pink and blue baby cupcakes to go with the dainty sandwiches that I had made.

While the women were at the baby shower, my Dad and I headed to Ypsilanti's Sidetrack Bar and Grill, forced to miss out on my delicious crustless tea sandwiches. Longing for watercress, I could barely choke down my bleu cheese and bacon burger with green olive mayo. Nearly inconsolable, Dad and I had to drown our sorrows with cold beer. Fortunately there were those leftover hummus sandwiches upon our return.

Nick Roumel is an attorney with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine. He can be reached at: nroumel @nachtlaw.com

Published: Thu, May 3, 2012

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