Sunday, September 27, 2009

tea sandwiches? how about egg salad?

When was the last time you had tea sandwiches? Did it actually involve tea? I just realized that I have been making and serving tea sandwiches frequently this summer. What a perfect solution for a quick, easy and fairly light, they are just cute. I know that the only difference in tea sandwiches and a regular sandwich is the way they are cut...but, to me, the cut makes all the difference.

It all started late last spring when my book club read three cups of tea, one man's mission to fight terrorism and build school at a time by Greg Martinson and David Oliver reline. Have you read this amazing book? If not, go out as soon as you can and get it, borrow from a friend, Check it out from the library...whatever...just find it. It is beautiful, inspiring and...whatever your politics... so, so important in today's unsettled world. My favorite quote from the book is this passage from Hajji ali...a leader of Baltistan... to Greg Martinson, the book's author:

"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die."
Now back to tea sandwiches (a very odd transition)....while the book places an emphasis on the importance on drinking and serving tea as a way of building and maintaining relationships it has absolutely nothing to do with eating sandwiches!! But my book club has evolved into a "foodie" club. Whatever book we read...whether or not it is about food...leads to a dinner at one of our homes. We rotate monthly with a theme menu involving the book's title. So, for Three Cups of Tea, we came up with tea sandwiches. I made mine with egg salad...and that night...sitting around a table in Napa with eight terrific girlfriends...eating, drinking ( not tea) talking, laughing...the book's emphasis on slowing down and taking the time to nurture relationships seemed amazingly appropriate.

Fast forward a few weeks...a non-profit group I belong to works to make life a bit easier for people in need...they visit people in hospitals, visit home bound elderly folks, help families out at funeral receptions, etc...tons of stuff. One thing we do is put on a luncheon every other month for 120-150 primarily senior citizens. We work really hard to decorate, have entertainment (bingo, anyone?) and provide a nice lunch. Somehow, I have become in charge of planning the meal, shopping and overseeing the many, many volunteers who help cook, serve and clean up. I am not able to help in the other areas...but these luncheons are pure joy for me. I am constantly told that they are the highlight of our guests' month...sometimes the only social activity they have. they eat, talk, laugh, catch up with old friends...(sounds a bit like my book club, right?)

So, for our last luncheon, I suggested a menu of tea sandwiches, salad, cupcakes, tea, and lemonade. For our sandwiches, we had: tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, and deviled ham salad. (I confess that I had never heard of deviled ham...but the senior citizens loved them and told me stories about making them when they were children).... I made the egg salad..and 200 chocolate mini cupcakes!!!! Again, tea sandwiches were a hit...

Last week my good friend Karen came for lunch. She always comes with her bull mastiff, Phoebe...and Mosey and Phoebe are fast the visits are always a blast. I decided to make tea sandwiches because, as you can tell, they have become the theme of summer lunches. Again, an afternoon of talking, eating, laughing and catching up.

A frequent occurrence this summer was the number of people asking my how to hard boil eggs..and how to make egg salad. Surprised me at first...but I have come to realize that sometimes easy, basic techniques are just not taught Many people told me they had never hard boiled an egg in their I thought I would share how I do it...and my egg salad recipe. For those of you that are experts, please weigh in as there are so many points of view. I would love to share best practices....for everyone else...please give it a try...and tell me how you do.
So, for hard boiled eggs...there are many opposing tips...add vinegar, don't add vinegar, etc. A few people have told me that it is better to use eggs that are a few days old...too fresh and the shells will stick. I have no idea if that is true..or, if it is, why...but here is what works for me.

hard boiled eggs
Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add 1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar. Gently add desired number of room temperature eggs to pot using a slotted spoon. Reduce heat to a simmer. (keep an eye on the water to ensure it stays at a do not want the water to come back to a boil.) Cook the eggs for 10-12 minutes depending on the size of eggs. ***note, you should plan to experiment a bit with the timing...most recipes I read advise a shorter cooking time than what works for me...the eggs are never cooked through...try it a few times until you get it the way you like*** 
When the eggs are ready, remove from pot, again using the slotted spoon, and immediately place in an ice water bath. When cool enough to handle, they are ready to peel.

egg salad tea sandwiches
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onions
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
2 tbsp finely chopped sweet gherkin pickle
1/2 cup mayonnaise
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
french or sourdough bread, sandwich sliced

Add eggs to mixing bowl. Add onions, chives, gherkins, and 1/2 the mayo to the eggs and gently combine. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and the paprika and stir again. Use as much of the remaining mayo as you like...some people like their salad a bit dry..some whatever works for you. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Assemble sandwiches by first cutting off the crusts if you want a traditional tea sandwich. I love the sometimes I keep them on...these sandwiches are flexible depending on your preferences. Make 6 full-size sandwiches giving each a thin layer of egg salad (about 2 tbsp per sandwich) cut each sandwich in half on the diagonal...and then cut again to make 4 triangles. Plate either by piling them on a big platter, or serving individually with 4 tea sandwiches per person. I sprinkle additional paprika over the plate for a bit of color...

***note, you will have left over egg salad***
Enjoy your tea sandwiches...more importantly...enjoy the people you share them with.

have a good week.
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style."
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

BLT pasta?

o.k....everyone loves blt sandwiches, right? the combination of tastes....bacon, lettuce and tomatoes....on perfectly toasted bread...a classic. i thought....if it works on toast...why not linguine? (but then again...what doesn't work with pasta?) last night i made something new...BLT pasta....

i had thick cut bacon on hand....and i bought some organic cherry tomatoes and organic spinach at the farmer's market this week without knowing what i was going to do with these ingredients. friday night is usually pasta night at our house...and i felt like something i did some experimenting and....guess what?....BLT pasta really, really works....

regular readers know that my family eats pasta quite a lot...i long ago gave up my "carb phobia".....but i do try to ensure the ratio of vegetables to pasta is at least 50/50. the dish tastes better...and is better for you. so i added a lot of the tomatoes and spinach (yes...i know a true blt has lettuce not spinach....but i took a little bit of creative license here...the BLT was the inspiration...)...enough bacon to make it taste amazing...and some seasonings...and...viola....a delicious dish with only 5 main ingredients...easy, quick, perfect for a friday night?....
one technique that makes this easy-breezy...i oven bake the bacon. have you noticed that bacon has become the "it" ingredient lately? i see bacon in everything...savory dishes, desserts...covered in chocolate....paired with caramel....on ice name it...and everyone is recommending the oven method vs top of stove frying. preparing in the oven is so much easier...and cleaner... this is the method i used for this dish...and i am including the directions...but feel free to fry yours if you long as the bacon is really crunchy, prepare it however you wish.

another suggestion is to follow the quantity listed for spinach. if you are not used to sauteing or wilting greens you will be surprised as how much they cook down....a lot yields a small amount. honestly...i may even increase the quantity the next time i prepare this dish....and yes...i will prepare this is that good...

the 10 oz of spinach in the skillet covering the tomatoes

the spinach after 5 minutes....see the bottom of the pan...and all the tomatoes....illustrates how much volume is lost by wilting....

BLT Pasta
6 oz thick sliced bacon (approx. 5 slices)
12 oz cherry tomatoes*
10 oz baby spinach leaves* thoroughly washed
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb long pasta..such as linguine or fettuccine
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
grey salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1 tbsp snipped chives*
*if you can...use local sustainably or organically grown ingredients....there really is a difference in taste....
prepare bacon
preheat oven to 400 degrees. line rimmed baking sheet with foil. lay bacon strips directly on top of foil...or you can add a rack to the sheet and place the bacon on top of the rack...frankly, i have prepared the bacon both ways and do not see much of a difference).

bake bacon in preheated oven for 10 minutes. remove from oven, flip slices and return to oven for another 5-10 bacon carefully during the last few goes from cooked to burnt really fast!

remove from oven and place bacon slices on paper towel lined plate. pat extra fat off bacon and allow to cool....tear into bite sized pieces. reserve bacon drippings from baking sheet.

bring large pot of water to rapid boil. add handful of salt and pasta and cook according to package directions. meanwhile, add 1 tbsp bacon drippings and 1 tbsp olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. add tomatoes and saute for 2 minutes. with point of a sharp knife, prick each tomato...this allows the hot steam to escape...cook an additional 2 minutes. add all the spinach to the pan and cover for 1 minute. the spinach will just begin to wilt. stir and continue cooking...this time uncovered. cook 3-5 minutes until spinach has wilted but is still very green. (refer to photo). add red pepper flakes and salt & pepper to taste. when pasta is ready, drain and add to skillet. add bacon and another drizzle of olive oil to pan and combine all ingredients until well mixed. taste and adjust seasonings if needed. sprinkle chives on top of pasta. pass freshly shredded parmigiano-reggiano alongside pasta if desired. do you prepare bacon? and what is your favorite dish using this ingredient?

happy mid-september eveyone!


napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style"

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