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Little sandwiches, special sweets for a Mother's Day tea party

Official days of recognition have always seemed artificial to me, over-hyped opportunities for the retail industry to part us from our money. Why should my children feel they must send expensive gifts to me on Mother's Day, for example, when they express their love for me most meaningfully in their frequent phone calls and genuine interest in my daily life?

Well, because they do, just as I did when my mother was alive. Just as you probably do, too.

I don't think anything says "I care" more than something made with your hands and placed into those of a loved one. Because I like to cook, I usually express my affection with food. I tend toward the simpler as I get older because that's the kind of food I enjoy preparing and eating. It's the kind of food my mother, who was an excellent cook, fed me.

She died almost 30 years ago and I wish I had cooked more for her when she was alive. If she were, this menu for an afternoon tea is what I would serve her Sunday on Mother's Day. Brunch, lunch or dinner necessitates the inclusion of entire families. There are other days for a crowd. This would be just for her and just with me.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.

Many components and some assembly can be done in advance, which is noted in each recipe. All the sandwiches (but not the jam and goat cheese toasts) can be made several hours ahead. To prevent drying out, line a rimmed baking sheet with slightly damp paper towels. Arrange sandwiches in one layer, cover with another layer of slightly damp paper towels and plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Multitask and whip a little extra cream when you're making the Eton Mess for the lemon curd tarts. You'll have leftover pound cake from the petit fours and leftover Eton Mess ingredients. Layer everything to make a trifle for those who weren't invited to the Mother-Daughter Tea.

Serve with whatever tea Mom likes with cream and real sugar cubes. They are so much prettier than the blue, pink or yellow packets.

Lennie Bennett

SAVORY

Tomato Sandwiches

With Tarragon Mayonnaise

Toasts With Goat Cheese

and Roasted Garlic and Onion Jam

Manchego and Quince Paste Sandwiches

Chicken Salad Sandwiches Edged

With Chopped Chives

Cucumber Cups

With Smoked Salmon Filling

SWEET

Pound Cake Petit Fours

With Chocolate Ganache

Lemon Curd Tarts

Palmiers

Eton Mess

>>EASY

Toasts With Goat Cheese

and Roasted Garlic and Onion Jam

Stonewall Kitchen makes a sublime "jam" of roasted garlic and onions that I buy at Fresh Market. You can also order it online. The tang of the goat cheese plays well with the jam's sweetness. Chutney can be substituted for the jam.

2 thin slices of regular-sized white bread or 8 slices of mini-bread

8 ounces goat cheese

¼ cup Stonewall Kitchen Roasted Garlic and Onion Jam, or a chutney

Several springs of fresh thyme for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If using regular-sized bread, remove crusts and cut each slice into 4 strips. If using mini-slices, cut each in half. Arrange bread on sheet pan and toast in the oven until dried and crisp but not browned, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Can be made 1 day in advance and stored in airtight container at room temperature. To serve, soften goat cheese to room temperature and whip with a fork lighten. Spread a generous layer of jam onto each toast and spoon or pipe with a pastry bag a teaspoon of goat cheese on top. Garnish with fresh thyme.

Makes 16 tea sandwiches.

Source: Lennie Bennett,

Tampa Bay Times

>>easy

Tomato Sandwiches With Tarragon Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, removed from stems

½ cup mayonnaise

4 slices good-quality white bread (such as Pepperidge Farm, but not the very thin sliced)

4 small tomatoes (such as those sold as Campari tomatoes

Chop tarragon and combine with mayonnaise. Cut 2-inch circles from bread. You should get two circles per slice. Spread each circle with mayonnaise. Slice tomatoes, discarding end slices; usually 2 slices per tomato. Top bread with a slice. Garnish with a little tarragon.

Source: Lennie Bennett,

Tampa Bay Times

>>easy

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Edged With Chopped Chives

This is a basic recipe with none of the usual bells and whistles such as celery, fruit or nuts and a minimal amount of mayonnaise so that the flavor of the chicken dominates. I oven roast bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts but you could poach boneless, skinless breasts or use rotisserie chicken. The chive border adds a bit of kick and color. This will probably make more salad than you'll need but it's good for next-day lunch.

2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken (from 2 breasts)

¼ cup mayonnaise, plus 2 tablespoons

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon poultry seasoning or to taste

4 very thin slices of bread (such as Pepperidge Farm)

¼ cup minced chives

Combine chicken, 4 tablespoons mayonnaise and seasonings. Spread mixture on two bread slices and spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the remaining 2 slices, then form 2 sandwiches. With a serrated knife, remove crusts and cut each sandwich into four triangles. Put minced chives on a plate, lightly spread a layer of mayonnaise onto the longest cut side and dip into the minced chives.

Makes 8 tea sandwiches.

Source: Lennie Bennett,

Tampa Bay Times

>>moderate

Cucumber Cups

With Smoked Salmon Filling

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

1 tablespoon heavy cream

4 ounces smoked salmon

2 teaspoons dill, roughly chopped

2 small cucumbers, peeled

2 teaspoons capers, drained (for garnish)

Whip cream cheese and cream in the bowl of a small food processor or use an electric hand mixer. Reserve one small slice of salmon; roughly tear remainder into processor bowl. Add dill. Pulse several times to break up salmon. You don't want to puree the salmon but have it in small pieces. Can be made up to 2 days in advance. Discard ends from peeled cucumbers and cut into ½-inch slices. With a small spoon or melon scoop, remove center seeds to create a tiny bowl. Drain, scooped side down on paper towels for 30 minutes to one hour. Spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons of the salmon mixture into each cavity. Garnish with a small piece of the reserved salmon slice and a few capers. Can be prepared 1 hour in advance, covered and refrigerated.

Source: Lennie Bennett,

Tampa Bay Times

>>moderate

Pound Cake Petit Fours

With Chocolate Ganache

Petit fours are a classic tea food and there is no dishonor in purchasing them from a bakery. This recipe is an easier version of the traditional one in which you make the cake and a fondant icing that is insanely difficult to get right. These won't look perfect but they have the advantage of a chocolate coating and the care you took in making them yourself. Fresh kumquats, whose skins are edible, are a fresh, slightly frisky garnish. The maceration in an orange sugar syrup is optional.

1 pound cake (such as Entenmann's or Sara Lee)

½ cup orange marmalade or preserves

2 teaspoons orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier, or orange juice

1 9.7-ounce bar of Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate, chopped

15 fresh kumquats, sliced

Optional syrup for kumquats:

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or orange juice

Combine preserves and liqueur or juice in a small bowl. Cut cake in half horizontally. Spread half with the preserves and close up the cake. Chop chocolate and put in a heat-proof bowl that fits snugly over a large saucepan to create a double boiler. Put several inches of water in the pan and bring to a simmer. The water should not touch the bowl. Stir chocolate as it melts. Don't let even a whisper of water come near the chocolate or it will seize and you'll be left with an irredeemable sludge. As chocolate melts, cut cake into 1-inch slices. Cut off end crusts and cut each slice into three cakes. Trim the rounded top to create a flat surface. When chocolate is melted, turn off heat. Put a cake cube on a fork and hold it over the chocolate. Spoon chocolate over the cake and when covered completely, use another fork to gently nudge it onto a pan lined with parchment paper. When all cubes are covered, put pan into refrigerator to harden chocolate. Can be made one day ahead. Garnish with sliced kumquats before serving.

To make kumquat syrup, combine sugar and liquids in small saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes. Remove from heat and add sliced kumquats. Refrigerate. Can be made two days in advance.

You'll have enough chocolate to glaze 12 to 16 cakes, which is about two-thirds of the pound cake.

Source: Lennie Bennett,

Tampa Bay Times

>>easy

Lemon Curd Tarts

This is so easy, I used to be embarrassed to serve it. I felt lazy. Now I know that as long as something tastes and looks good, ease of preparation is to be celebrated.

½ cup lemon curd (usually found in the jam and jelly aisle)

½ cup whipped cream

6 prebaked mini tart shells

Fresh blueberries for garnish

Fold cream into the curd. Fill pastry shells with the mixture and top with blueberries.

Makes 6 tarts.

Source: Lennie Bennett,

Tampa Bay Times

>>moderate

Palmiers

The beauty of these sweet little crisps is that you can freeze them, unbaked and well-wrapped, for months and pull out however many you need whenever. Just be sure to slice them before you freeze them. You can also make a savory version using finely grated Parmesan cheese instead of sugar.

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold

1 cup sugar

Sprinkle ¼ cup of sugar on pastry board and position pastry with long side toward you. Cover evenly with remaining sugar. Roll each long end to the center of the pastry, making sure to roll tightly and evenly. Freeze rolled log for 20 minutes, until very firm but not frozen. Cut log into ¼-inch slices. Gently roll each palmier with a rolling pin to lightly flatten. At this point they can be frozen indefinitely. To finish, place the number of frozen palmiers you want to serve 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Return to freezer for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake palmiers 4 to 6 minutes or until golden on the underside. They will probably start to unroll so use a fork to coax them back into a spiral and flip them over. Bake about 5 minutes more or until golden on the underside and crisp. Watch carefully to prevent scorching. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely. Makes up to 25 palmiers.

Source: Adapted from

marthastewart.com

>>MODERATE

Eton Mess

The funny name for this elegant, layered dessert comes from Eton College, a prestigious British school where it is served at cricket games with a rival school. The "mess" part, representative of the droll British humor, could refer either to its appearance or to the large portions in which it's usually served.

4 (6-ounce) packages fresh raspberries, divided use

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar

Juice from ½ of a lemon

1 tablespoon framboise liqueur (optional)

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 meringue cookies (usually found in plastic tubs in the bakery section), roughly crumbled

Pour 2 packages of the raspberries, ½ cup of the sugar, and the lemon juice into a saute pan. Crush the berries lightly with a fork and bring the mixture to a full boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and gently boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is syrupy. Remove from heat and add the framboise. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then fold in the remaining 2 packages of raspberries and refrigerate until very cold. Can be made up to two days ahead.

Beat the cream, the remaining sugar, and the vanilla together with an electric mixer until it forms firm peaks. In decorative glasses, layer a spoonful of the whipped cream, a spoonful of the raspberry mixture, and then a few meringue pieces. Repeat once or twice, depending on the size of the glasses, until the glasses are full, ending with berries and a dollop of cream. Serve immediately or chill for an hour, until ready to serve.

Serves up to 4.

Source: Adapted from Ina Garten

>>EASY

Manchego and Quince Paste Sandwiches

16 slices mini-pumpernickel bread

¼ cup quince paste (usually found in the ethnic food or jam aisle)

1 small wedge of Manchego cheese, shaved into thin slices with a vegetable peeler

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup smoked almonds, ground in a food processor or finely chopped

Line up the bread in 2 rows. Spread quince paste on one row. Top each slice with several slices of cheese; don't let any overhang the bread. Spread a thin layer of butter on remaining bread and assemble sandwiches. Spread a thin layer of butter on each side and roll in ground almonds.

Makes 8 tea sandwiches.

Source: Lennie Bennett,

Tampa Bay Times

Little sandwiches, special sweets for a Mother's Day tea party 05/07/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 7:35pm]

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