Menu for a Tropical Tea

Enough reminiscing! What would I finally serve for a Tropical Tea?!

Start with Pimm’s Punch (not to be confused with Pimm’s Cup). I first had Pimm’s Punch at Bettys in York. It was a hot day, we’d been walking and waiting for hours, and this hit the spot. It was so refreshing. I don’t know the secret ingredient in Pimm’s, but it’s brilliant. If you have a sense of humor, skewer the fruit garnish with a little umbrella pick!

Then, present a tropical fruit platter. Try to have the fruits all sliced similarly (and thinly): papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, mango, honeydew, some orange slices (minus the pith), a few strawberries, and all of it sprinkled with finely grated lime peel (and maybe a little lime juice).

Follow with “sandwiches,” except you don’t have to use bread necessarily. For instance, macadamia-crusted goat cheese can be served “open faced” on Belgian endive, topped with a dollop of mango-papaya preserves. Offer at least three kinds of sandwiches, of course, for essential variety.

Scones next, made with dried apricots and lemon peel. Lemon curd and Devonshire Cream accompany the scones , of course, but instead of the traditional strawberry jam, use something tropical – like papaya butter, or pineapple preserves.

Finally, dessert! Coconut bars, shortbread cookies sprinkled with tropical sugars, banana bread tea loaf, and something(s) spectacular… like a Hawaiian twist on Eton Mess, or individual coconut crème brulees, petite Key lime tartlettes, or a spectacular pineapple-rum cake, layered with coconut cream, and topped with toasted coconut flakes.

And what beverage goes with all these delectables? Tea, of course. Offer Yorkshire Gold for the purists, pineapple-infused black tea for the adventurous, and my favorite – Rejuvenation (herbal) tea – for anyone needing some aloha spirit revival.

To set your table island-style, use anything that reminds you of palm trees, the beach, tropical flowers, Hawaiiana, and warm sunny days. You know how you never want to leave your Hawaiian vacation? Well, you won’t want to get up from your Tropical Tea table either. Sounds perfect!

In a macadamia-nutshell:

Pimm’s Punch

Tropical fruit platter

Sandwiches – Macadamia-crusted goat cheese on Belgian endive, topped with mango-papaya preserves
Cherry tomatoes stuffed with curried egg salad
Kalua pork lettuce cups with poi garnish
Mauna Kea shrimp with peanut sauce

Apricot-lemon scones with Mock Devonshire Cream, lemon curd, and pineapple preserves

Desserts – choose at least three:
Coconut bars
Shortbread cookies sprinkled with tropical sugars
Roy’s Banana-macadamia bread tea loaf
Eton Mess Aloha-style (meringues, chopped fresh pineapple, whipped cream with
chopped macadamia nuts, all topped with toasted coconut chips)
Individual coconut crème brulees
Key lime tartlettes
Pineapple-rum roulade cake, layered with coconut whipped cream

Teas – Yorkshire Gold
Pineapple-infused black tea
Rejuvenation tea
Milk and sugar cubes

Enjoy! Aloha! And mahalo nui loa for reading my blog!

Tropical Tea

I had tea with my mom and sister last week and we got on the subject of, well, of tea parties. My sister wanted to know what was my most memorable tea? That was easy: the tea I had sitting on the Banyon Veranda of the Moana Surfrider (now it’s called the Beach House Veranda) in Waikiki.

When our kids were still pretty small, my husband and I took them to Hawaii – first Maui, then later that week, Oahu. I had found a real deal on the Internet that made the Oahu part of our trip do-able. By the time we landed in Honolulu, got our rental car, and got to our hotel, it was the early part of the afternoon – but late enough that I knew we had to feed the kids and fast (or we’d have screaming menehune on our hands). Unfortunately, the hotel we checked into was not what it had appeared to be on the Internet. The walls were uncovered cinder block, the open air hallways looked out over the local red light district, the kitchenette needed its aluminum stove liners replaced (yes, it was that kind of kitchen), and the linens on the bed felt gritty. The neon lighting did not add to the ambiance – but did make us think about leaving them on all night to keep the cockroaches hiding. Gosh, the lobby pictures on the Internet never hinted at what we’d find in the rooms – ! And we were just a block from Waikiki Beach! I should have known better – but at least, I learned quickly.

Anyway, both kids were hungry and we decided that the first thing we’d do would be to get them some decent food. Then we’d tackle the problem of accommodations.
Back in the car, and out on the road again, up Kalakaua Avenue, and there we were, in front of the First Lady of Waikiki – and they had valet parking! We hopped out of the car and went searching for food. A place this refined would surely have something appetizing for keiki. And then I saw the placard: Afternoon Tea on the Banyon Veranda. Forget the kids, I needed soul-rejuvenating, and tea on the Veranda was going to do it (plus, they had a keiki menu). As we waited for a table, I thought to ask the concierge what the availability was… alas, they had absolutely no rooms.

I returned to the placard to wait for our table, and was greeted by name by the hostess. How did she know my name already? She led our family to our table and promised my starving kids that their tea would be out directly. My husband excused himself to wash up, just as freshly squeezed pineapple juice arrived for my son and daughter. I only got one sip: it was the most amazing thing any of us had ever drank, and the kids knew something good when they got it. Meanwhile, where was my husband? Our grown-up tea was delivered, but I was trying to be polite and not eat without him. The kids went ahead without him, but I waited – patiently, not so patiently, where was he?!

My husband finally returned – all smiles. Wait, did you drink a mai tai without me? In response, he handed me a room key – to the Moana, of course. When he’d excused himself, he’d gone back to the Front Desk to double check on room availability. The staff listened to his story of woe, re-checked their rooms, and noticed that a reservation was going to be cancelled in 10 minutes if the person booking the room did not show up. So, my husband waited, the guest never showed up, my husband registered for the room, drove back to the dive hotel, collected our luggage, checked out, returned to the Moana, checked our luggage with the bell captain, and finally, returned for tea.

That day, my husband became the ali’I of aloha – he lives aloha. Mahalo to my big kahuna!

Banana Bread Pudding

This is a combination of two superb recipes from two superb cookbooks: The Silver Palate Cookbook and Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii. I used this dessert recipe for a “just-because“ tropical luncheon I had with some girlfriends a year ago. In his cookbook, Roy suggested using his banana bread in bread pudding, so that’s what I did – using the bread pudding recipe from Sheila Lukins’s and Julee Rosso’s cookbook. Because I was looking for a more tropical accent, I substituted spiced dark rum for the whiskey in their recipe. I also served it with a very small scoop of Häagen Daz Macadamia Nut ice cream. It was the best part of the meal!

1 recipe of Roy’s Banana Macadamia Nut Bread, cut into ½” cubes, and allowed to dry overnight in a 100°F oven
1 qt. milk
10 T. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 large eggs
1½ c. sugar
2 T. vanilla extract
1 c. golden raisins, plumped in 1 c. boiling water for 15 mins, then drained well
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
4 T. spiced dark rum

Place the bread cubes in a bowl and pour the milk over it and let stand for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a 9 x 13 x x2 inch baking dish with 1-2 T. butter.
In another bowl, beat together 3 eggs, the sugar, and the vanilla extract. Gently stir this mixture into bread cubes. Gently stir in raisins.
Pour into the prepared baking dish, place on the middle rack of the oven, and bake until browned and set, about 1 hour and 10 mins. Cool to room temperature.
To make sauce, stir 8 T. butter and confectioners’ sugar in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until sugar is dissolved and mixture is very hot. Remove from the heat. Beat the remaining egg well and whisk it into the sugar mixture. Remove pan from base and continue beating until sauce has cooled to room temperature. Add rum.
To serve, preheat broiler. Pour rum sauce over pudding and run under broiler until bubbling.

Makes 8-10 portions

Banana-Macadamia Nut Bread

banana bread pic

This makes one of the best banana breads I’ve ever tried; it always comes out moist, and it’s a cinch to make. Assembly time is 15 mins. tops. In his Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii, Roy (yes, we’re on a first-name basis here at home) says it makes a 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan, but I always get two substantial loaves out of it, or about 6 tea-loaves (making it really easy to offer as party favors). I also took his advice once and used it for a banana bread pudding to finish off a tropical luncheon for some of my friends; it was very ono!

½ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar
1 lb. overripe bananas, peeled and mashed
2 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
3 1/3 c. flour
2 eggs
1/3 c. water
½ c. chopped macadamia nuts (reserve 2 T. for the topping)
¼ c. raisins (optional)
¼ c. shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Add the bananas and beat for 1 min. Sift the baking powder and baking soda into the flour and stir into the banana-butter mixture. Add the eggs and water, and beat for 1 min. Stir in the nuts, and the raisins and coconut, if desired.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the reserved nuts. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-45 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

(My notes: I always add the coconut, but never the raisins. I also always add 1 t. of vanilla extract. Also, I confess to using the dump method of mixing: using a really sturdy standing mixer – like a Kitchen Aid – I turn on the mixer and start adding the ingredients from the top of the list on down, except that I add the flour after the water. That’s it! No wonder it only takes me 15 mins. (or less) to assemble. Also instead of sprinkling chopped nuts on top (because I always forget and put them in the batter), I simply arrange some whole macadamia nuts on top.)

Snickerdoodles

 

I was feeling nostalgic yesterday – my daughter was traveling with friends on Spring Break, my son was visiting a college with my husband, and I was home alone for a whole day-and-night. Just the concept of cleaning the refrigerator uninterrupted was almost exciting somehow – pathetic, I know. But I also had the time to make something (and finish the process) that was self-indulgent. So, I made snickerdoodles.

cookie jar

These cookies have a history: they hark back to my first Home Economics class in 7th grade with Mrs. Bremer in Room 105. This will date me, but it was the type of Home Ec room that had six fully–supplied, complete kitchens for the class to break up into smaller groups and practice cookery. My first lesson in that class was “Summer Cooler” (basically homemade egg nog with a scoop of strawberry ice cream) and Cinnamon Toast Fingers (toasted under a broiler); but that’s another story.

home ec notebook

Mrs. Bremer gave us a lot of good, old-fashioned American recipes, and snickerdoodles was one of them. Possibly German in origin, they are indigenous to the Northeast. (Hence, I always include them in my New England-style Thanksgiving menu – yet another story.) Yes, they are self-indulgent, but fortunately, my son loves them, too. They are wonderful with a mug of coffee or glass of cold milk! Perfect for mother-son bonding (which we did when he came home from his college visit).cookie crumbs

½ c. unsalted butter
1½ c. sugar
2 large eggs
2¾ c. flour
2 t. cream of tartar
2 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt

Topping: 2 T. sugar and 2 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Sift together flour, cream of tartar and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, mixing thoroughly. Roll into balls, using about ½ T. of dough for each ball. Roll cookie balls in sugar-cinnamon mixture and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

snickerdoodles pan

Bake for about 8-10 mins. or until just lightly browned (but still soft).  Makes about 80 cookies.

Rice Pilaf

This is a recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, a go-to cookbook that was given to me as a wedding gift. Twenty-plus years later, I still refer to this cookbook. One of the reasons I trust it so much is because of the accuracy of the Greek recipes included. (Zoe Coulson, the author, might have been Greek – these recipes are so authentic.) Anyway, this is her recipe for “Orzo-Rice Pilaf.” It’s an excellent accompaniment to any roasted or grilled meat, or fish.  I’ve adapted the original recipe a bit to please my taste buds – I hope it pleases yours, too!

¼ c. unsalted butter
¼ c. olive oil
I yellow onion, chopped fine
1 c. orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. regular long-grain rice (white or brown)

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add orzo and onion; cook until pasta and onion are golden, stirring often, about 10 mins. Stir in broth and rice; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 mins. or until liquid is absorbed and orzo and rice are tender.

Serves 8.

Kopenhai

If I had to pick one Greek dessert that I loved above all others, this would be it.  The filling reminds me of cakes made with marzipan, and if it makes me think of marzipan, then it has to be good!  This dessert was created in honor of the Danish prince who, in 1862, became King George I of Greece.  (Kopenhai is named for Copenhagen, the capital of his native Denmark.)  My mother got this recipe from an old family friend from Chicago.  The idea of working with filo can be scary, but it really is easy – especially when you are only using it in layers in a pan.  It is so easy that my daughter demonstrated making this dessert at a local Greek festival, after only one practice session with filo.

cutting filo 

Cake: 6 oz. blanched almonds, ground fine
1/2 lb. melted butter, unsalted
2 c. sugar
1 c. bread crumbs (Panko works well)
1/2 oz. brandy
7 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 lb. filo, defrosted

Syrup: 2 c. sugar
1 c. water
1 t. lemon juice

Make the syrup: Bring the water and sugar to a boil, then allow to simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice, stir, allow to cool, then refrigerate.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 375°F.  Separate the eggs; beat the egg whites until the peaks just stand up. In a mixer, beat egg yolks and add sugar slowly until the mixture is fluffy and light. Then add the brandy. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a large spoon, fold in the whites, alternating with the bread crumbs and almonds. Mix well.
Butter a large (13″ x 9″ x 2″) Pyrex dish or metal pan. Use half of the filo for the bottom, separately fitting and placing each sheet, and buttering it before layering the next sheet. Pour the mixture on top of the layers of filo. Then continue layering and buttering the remaining sheets over the top of the mixture. Cut the top layers of filo down the middle (the long way) with a sharp knife before cooking. Bake for 30-40 mins. Pour the cold syrup over the hot cooked cake.  For a traditional presentation, cut into diamond-shapes.

Roasted potatoes

This is a super–easy recipe that picky-purist-eaters (like my first-born prince) will actually request. If you’re really in a rush, increase the oven temp to 450° F, and roast for 30 mins, stirring every 10 mins. The fresh herbs dress up the presentation; the dill is especially nice when accompanied by fish dishes.

2 lbs. baby red rose potatoes
¼ c. melted butter
¼ c. olive oil
¼ c. lemon juice
4-6 peeled, fresh garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped, fresh parsley to taste (optional)
Chopped, fresh dill to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 400° F. Wash and quarter the potatoes. Spray with PAM, or grease a 12” x 7” casserole dish. Whisk butter, olive oil, and lemon juice together. Spread potatoes and garlic in the casserole dish, drizzle with the butter mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in the oven. Roast for 45 mins., stirring potatoes every 15 mins., until potatoes are fork-tender. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using. Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

Tsatziki

Tsatziki is a Greek classic – a cool-as-a-cucumber, appetizer dip that can be extended into the main part of the meal.  This is an excellent recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s Mediterranean Cooking. It’s great as an hors d’oeuvre with pita bread triangles, or as a condiment with roast chicken (or lamb) and rice pilaf. The secret ingredient is the fresh mint.

2 c. plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and coarsely grated
Salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 t. pure olive oil
2 t. lemon juice
3 T. chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground pepper

1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth (or a doubled paper towel) and place over a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours or as long as overnight.
2. Place the grated cucumber in a sieve set over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 mins. Then rinse off the salt and gently squeeze the cucumber dry.
3. In a bowl, combine the drained yogurt, garlic, olive oil, cucumber, lemon juice, and chopped mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, if desired.

Cook’s notes: I use low-fat Mountain High plain yogurt; I’ve tried Fage yogurt, thinking that Greek-style yogurt would be better, but it was way too thick and heavy. I just put the garlic through a garlic press (no mincing for me!); I just sliver the mint, I don’t really chop it. And I don’t add extra salt after salting the cucumbers; it doesn’t need it. I do add pepper, of course.

Greek Easter

“Greek Easter” has always been notoriously (well, if you’re Greek Orthodox) out-of-sync with the rest of Christendom. This year is exceptionally late: Greek Easter is on May 5; everybody else’s Easter is on March 31. That’s 5 weeks! Talk about Greek-time… (as opposed to on-time). Ah well, I guess we can buy Easter treats and decorations at half-price…

Except that traditional Greeks don’t really go in for the Easter bunny thing. Easter is the most important holiday in the Orthodox Church, and little bunnies and fuzzy chicks don’t enhance the drama and ritual of the celebration. The closest we get to Easter baskets is red eggs and Easter bread. The Easter bread sports a jaunty red egg baked in the middle, and sometimes the dyed eggs get wrapped in tulle and tied with a ribbon, but that’s about it.

red egg

That said, it’s helpful to remember that Greeks are also known for independent thinking – Greece was the birthplace of democracy, after all. Translated, that means anything goes – I hope my mom is not reading this!  So, if you want a Greek menu and an Easter egg hunt for the little ones – go for it! (That’s what I do, anyway!)Greek Easter apps

Here are some of the options I’m considering for Greek Easter on May 5th:
Saganaki with french bread slices
Tyropites
Hummous with pita triangles
Tsatziki
Crudités

Barbecued leg of lamb
Rice pilaf
Roasted potatoes
Grilled sea bass
Spanakopita
Greek salad
Greek Easter bread

Kourambiethes
Karithopita
Kopenhai
Galactoboureko
Fresh fruit

Wines/spirits from Greece
Coffee
Chamomile tea
Potokalathes