A Most Fabulous Afternoon Tea “and Tinis” – A New Tradition Is Born

Except that we didn’t do “tinis” (martinis)…we opted for Champagne this time.

The back story to this year’s “tea and tinis” gathering at the St. Regis Hotel, Monarch Beach, California:

Several friends and I have participated in a celebratory holiday cookie exchange for the past decade.  We’d gather on a Sunday prior to Christmas at our good buddy “S’s” home…we’d arrive with six dozen just baked cookies (for sharing later), brought a bottle of champagne (for sharing now), enjoyed a delightful lunch prepared by several able hands — chatter, laughter, sharing of woes, dreams and ideas filled the day.  We concluded by committing to keep this annual tradition going.  Once back home, our families literally “plowed” through the enormous cookie tray,  gobbling up their favorites while also trying new varieties. Then they’d swear off cookies for the the rest of the season, as they’ve usually over-consumed at this point.  Whew.  It was fun and a lot of work.

This year, some of the group have big changes going on in their lives, leaving them with no time for baking dozens of cookies or hosting a party. It didn’t seem that the 2012 party was feasible.  So, when my manicurist, Victoria, told me about the nearby St. Regis Hotel’s “Tea and Tini” holiday activity, I got this idea…but  first off, I asked,  what is a “tini?”… she said, “Martini’s, silly :-),”  then I thought,…why not reinvent our cookie party, turning it into the “non-cookie party” by going for “Tea and Tinis” at the St. Regis Hotel?  Almost everyone jumped on board with resounding “yes’s” to the rsvp…we booked it, and twelve of us enjoyed the most spectacular spread of finger sandwiches, petite savory bites, salads and petite sweets, along with some bubbly and a few martinis too.  This afternoon tea rivaled the tea time D. and I experienced at London’s Savoy Hotel…it truly was an awesome experience.  All were relaxed and thrilled.  We started with Champagne…which paired perfectly with the savory bites, in particular the luscious smoked salmon open-faced sandwich.  A broad selection of Mighty Leaf whole leaf teas were offered.  Each guest chose their preferred tea, which was served individually in gorgeously designed Fortessa tea pots.

During the holidays, the St. Regis lays out an extensive array of tea time foods. Service is buffet style.  The room is beautifully appointed. Table settings are stunningly styled; clean, sleek, and functional.  Service was impeccable and readily available.  On a sad note, my daughter, unfortunately, came down with a cold and couldn’t make; therefore, I am forced to go another day this season so she can experience this enormous “perfection” of tea time display.  “Shucks, what tough duty, right? :-)”

Enjoy gawking over these photos of the food displays…and believe me, my photos do the displays no justice at all.

A plethora of beautiful tea sandwiches at the St. Regis...most are open faced, thus lower in carbs...yay for me

A plethora of beautiful tea sandwiches at the St. Regis…most are open faced, thus lower in carbs…yay for me

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And then there were sweets….they were petite enough to reduce all sense of guilt in trying one or two or five or six ….


Trays and trays of beautifully prepared miniature sweets...from petite cream brûlées to British financiers...and mango tarts, all fresh, tasty and perfectly sized to have three or four

Trays and trays of beautifully prepared miniature sweets…from petite cream brûlées to British financiers…and mango tarts, all fresh, tasty and perfectly sized to have three or four

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There were delicious, beautiful varieties of foods for almost every dietary requirement…whether gluten intolerant, diabetic, vegetarian, or carnivore – the selection was extensive.  I will say, it was a day where if you could, throw the restrictive diet out the window…it was worth it, as the bites were small.  Hat’s off to the chefs and the St. Regis Hotel, Monarch Beach, California.  We all vowed to come back next year.  Some of us can’t wait that long.

12 week challenge update:  week 5

Well, you’d think with the tea buffet I’d have blown it; but I planned for it and actually am down almost another pound.  I’m continuing with my exercise and yoga. Additionally, I “planned” to celebrate so ate lighter for breakfast and dinner; adding more seafood to my diet this week too.  Am down almost 5 lbs….now the tougher pounds are next but I continue to be motivated and feel in control – a nice feeling I must admit.  Thanks for all your support.

Who Doesn’t Love a “Thrown Together” Chocolate Dessert?

I adore my husband for many reasons; one being that he has delightful, interesting,  food and wine loving friends – many who are chefs (lucky me).  Recently we were at his Welsh buddy and awesome chef’s house for dinner.  He always makes the meals look effortless.  They are full of flavor, texture, and balance.  He uses incredibly high quality ingredients and keeps things simple.

He’s been on a healthy, fitness lifestyle for the last couple years and has reflected this in his menus…sometimes that means “no dessert”.  He had none planned for the delectable and light dinner we had this night…however, as we finished our meal, there was a little red wine left that needed something to go with it…chocolate came to mind and chef does a mean chocolate souffle…so in 30 minutes he whipped together  this spectacular individual chocolate souffle.  He has mastered a technique using sugar and butter to prep the ramekin which lets it drop freely and enticingly onto a plate.  The recipe is an old one from Gourmet’s Best Desserts Cookbook.  He effortlessly performed in front of us – whipping up this elegant dessert…the difficult part was waiting the 15 minutes for them to bake, but wow, was it worth it.

Coating the ramekin with butter and a bit of sugar

Coating the ramekin with butter and a bit of sugar

What a satisfying way to end the meal…I enjoyed it with a nice cup of hot tea…being from Great Britain, excellent tea is always on

Step by step...Chocolate soufflés...from old Gourmet recipe...awesome dessert

Step by step…Chocolate soufflés…from old Gourmet recipe…awesome dessert

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What an exceptional and memorable way to end a meal…and with a baking demonstration to boot.

Teatime can be anytime…particularly when chocolate is around.


Just A Little Tea Luncheon…while discussing “Major Pettigrew…”

Our book group was meeting at my house last week for our discussion around a delightful first novel by Helen Simonson called “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.”  It was my turn to select the book, so I chose one set in a small village in England where tea time was the backdrop for many insightful discussions and character developments.   In keeping with the story,  I offered up a light tea luncheon that took  about 30 minutes to assemble, as I had made the cookies and puffs earlier in the week.  They both freeze well.

The menu included one of my favorite salads – Endive, Watercress, Grapes, and Bleu Cheese chunks with spicy, sweet toasted pecan halves.  A bit of champagne vinegar, minced shallots, and a light whisk of extra virgin olive oil dressed this lively mixture of tastes – bitter, salty, sweet, spicy bursts in each bite.   They all enjoyed the crispness of this mix of greens, cheese, fruit & nuts while popping a few curried devil egg stuffed puffs.

We had two iced teas…my favorite hot or cold, Jasmine Downey Pearls, and also a refreshing black Orange Pekoe – Ceylon & India from Harney & Sons.

The three crispy cookies served paired well with both teas.  I made a shortbread cookie infused with ground jasmine tea – the floral jasmine taste was subtle and enhanced the buttery cookie.

The savory side of lunch...endive, watercress, bleu cheese salad...with little puffs filled with egg salad

The savory side of lunch…endive, watercress, bleu cheese salad…with little puffs filled with egg salad


Mocha chocolate tea cookie, excellent with any tea

Mocha chocolate tea cookie, excellent with any tea

We read that Major Pettigrew is being made into a movie and had fun casting the characters while sipping and crunching.

Betty would have loved this book and ensuing discussion over this menu.

Drink whole leaf teas….they are good for you 🙂

Let’s Talk “Iced Tea”

It’s tea time and it’s almost summertime…which means…it’s iced tea time.  I still love my hot black tea with milk in the morning, even during heat waves in the summer.  Often I have just one cup from my morning pot, head off to an exercise class, then consume the remaining tea “iced” later in the day.

American’s are in LOVE with iced tea.  Over 80% of the tea consumed in America is iced.  There are some really good ones out there or you can prepare a great one of your own.

If having iced tea on the run (ordering out),  believe it or not, my favorite is Starbuck’s black iced tea…it is their Awake Tea by Tazo (Tazo is owned by Starbucks, fyi).  They pour it back and forth over ice, then into your cup…it is fresh, brisk, and “watery cold” every time.  It’s my idea of a fabulous tea product.

A few days ago, my daughter called to tell me just how much she loved her Jasmine Downey Pearls “iced” – this is one of my favorites too, has that subtle fragrance of jasmine that lifts you up with every sip.

One of my favorite urban tea houses, Tranquil Tea Lounge, serves impeccable iced tea.  The tea maker steeps fresh, whole leafed tea of your choosing in an infuser, then delivers it to the table like this.

For our Memorial Day Holiday, we had the family over for a barbecue.  My niece, S.,  baked up spectacular desserts…beautifully themed to the season.  These paired well with my Kenilworth Ceylon iced tea…

Can’t resist showing you these luscious looking desserts – fresh from the oven –   These washed down well with iced tea.

What tea is best for making iced tea?  Any good quality tea can be iced.  I am pleasantly surprised by how some teas which are just “so so” to my liking served hot, turn out to be delicious and fragrant cold.  Black currant tea is one that comes to mind.  I enjoy it hot, but love it cold.  Peet’s Teas has  a fruity black currant which ices well.  A high quality Ceylon black tea, such as the one from Kenilworth tea plantations, makes a superior iced tea.  Harney & Son’s, Adagio, and Mighty Leaf are a few purveyors who stock Kenilworth Ceylon.  It’s smooth and crisp tasting.  Also, Jasmine pearls ice beautifully.  I usually add the ice just prior to serving.  There is nothing more refreshing than adding a sprig of fresh mint to your iced tea too.

Experiment a bit, try icing some varieties you’ve not done before.  Enjoy!

Kenilworth Ceylon makes a wonderful iced tea!

Kenilworth Ceylon makes a wonderful iced tea!

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Anatomy of “Puttin’ On A Tea Luncheon” – Four of Four Posts

Taste is powerful at unleashing memories.  That’s one of the reasons I love to select menu items that are not only packed with flavor in each bite, or expose guests to a new sensation, but also ensure to include items which elicit remembrances we hold dear.

Our third and primary sweet item for this luncheon menu was geared towards reminding my best friend, T., of my mom’s pastry cream.  It seemed Mom made cream puffs often when were teens, we enjoyed scores of them.  Thus this vanilla cream tart topped with toasted coconut was to honor that past.  I posted about this fool proof, smooth as silk, patisserie cream a month ago.  It is quick to prepare and delightfully vanilla”y”.

That’s how we finished off our lunch…then each guest snacked on the mini mayo cake cupcakes and the petite oatmeal cookies…I also packed up several “to go” as some had a bit of a drive home.  We thoroughly enjoyed Jasmine Downey Pearls, green tea scented with jasmine flowers, from Peet’s Tea with dessert.  Perfect ending!

Using table setting pieces which were gifts or family heirlooms is another way I like to extract memories.  Using these is more important to me than setting the  table with “perfectly” matched items.  Here are a few I used for this lunch:

I don’t mind mixing metals as there is a story behind each one of them…

A couple have tiny cracks and are a bit worn around the silver, however, whenever I use these, I think of my spunky, 4′ 10″ Italian Godmother and how she snuck these to me and asked that I not tell her children that she wanted me to have them.  She always made me feel special by putting on a tea kettle for me the minute I arrived to visit. Everyone else were coffee drinkers in the family.

In the end, it’s the company you keep that truly makes your tea luncheon a success.  My best friend brought me this gift:

She is right.  Flavorful, colorful, small plates of food and fresh, exuberant whole leaf teas merely complemented the fabulous company.
Enjoy tea with your friends…



Teapot napkin ring given to me by my dear friend Pat

Teapot napkin ring given to me by my dear friend Pat

Tea teaspoons...given to me by my sister-in-law, old Franciscan china cup from my Godmother, oatmeal cookies to go for all

Tea teaspoons…given to me by my sister-in-law, old Franciscan china cup from my Godmother, oatmeal cookies to go for all

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Anatomy of “Puttin On A Tea Luncheon” – Third of Four Posts

All the prep is done!  Guests arrive at noon.  My remaining work is primarily “assembly only.”  This is my favorite part of food preparation – assembly and plating.

Before going to bed last night, I quickly scribed a list of “things to do” in the morning.  This way I went to bed feeling in control.   Here was my list…

  • Finish setting the table – add a few fresh flowers from the yard
  • Make scones
  • Assemble salad with the washed belgian endive, watercress, bleu cheese – add spicy toasted pecans at last minute…dressing is ready
  • Assemble prosciutto & asparagus finger sandwiches (asparagus is already blanched and chilled in fridge)
  • Make mascarpone cream cheese frosting and top mini mayo cupcakes
  • Chill the sparkling wine (chose a Napa Valley 2000 Anderson Diva…one of the last few bottles from before they sold to Clif Lede)
  • Whip heavy cream and fill vanilla cream tarts (shells and cream are done – top with coconut…toast with brulee torch
  • Set out the teas and infuser and teapots – put milk and sugar on table
  • Get myself cleaned up and ready for company

While snipping a few alsteroemeria (Peruvian lilies) I spied my Mexican sage and rogue mint and snipped a few of those for two small wall vases in my powder room.

Below…table set with Alstroemeria (Pervian lilies)…nice table flowers as they have no fragrance, (doesn’t compete with food aromas)…and low vases, easy to talk over.

Everything was coming together perfectly when a minor glitch occurred…as I prepared the sprouted wheat toast for the proscuitto and asparagus finger sandwich…oughto…the bread looked weird, a white mold or something…so, I could hear my mother’s voice saying..”when in doubt, throw it out!”  Also, as a culinary friend of mine recently told me, “when in catering, you have to improvise.”  I really wanted a finger sandwich to go with the potato leek soup first course, I had roasted some tomatoes for a caprese bruschetta I am taking to an open house later this week…I decided to scrap the first sandwich and make a caprese.

Salad ready to toss with dressing and toasted pecans just prior to serving:

I was working through my list well…then got a little stressed due to the finger sandwich glitch…I hadn’t made my scones yet and still needed to get myself ready…I could hear my sister saying, “go get yourself ready!”…so I did, thinking while doing so that my friends could help me make the scones, they’d like that if I ran out of time…and thought, scones are a quick bread…they should be easy to pull together in 10 minutes… well they were.  I sometimes forget that scones really really really are a quick bread.  Ten minutes and they were done, on the tray ready to bake off just before serving with the salad course.  All worked out.

My sister came a bit before to help put the finishing touches on Mom’s mini mayo  cake cupcakes and plate with Mom’s petite oatmeal with pecan cookies…

We decided to filled the vanilla cream tarts just before serving and top with the coconut for those who love coconut and toast them in front of guests…


Table setting...powder room flowers...Mexican sage and mint in wall vases.

Table setting…powder room flowers…Mexican sage and mint in wall vases.

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Time to start…..

All right…am set to go…the doorbell is ringing… my next post will finish off the tea luncheon.  See you then.

Drink tea…

Roasted tomato crostini

Roasted tomato crostini


Part of the food

Part of the food