Monday, May 30, 2016

New Basement!

I meant to share this over the weekend, but better late than never!  I'll try and post this week's party tomorrow, but first I wanted to share my new finished basement.

First the large "rec room" area (i.e., where I had the Tour of Italy tea):

(By the way, the table is just a 6 foot folding plastic table.  With a long tablecloth, it isn't even that noticeable!)

My plan is to eventually put up a photo collage on a part of the wall for each country I've been too.  I'll have to do an update post when I'm done (or hold another basement tea!). 

As you can see, there are two doors to the left of the picture.  The door on the right is a bedroom/office:

(I know such exciting décor--two whole flower pots in the window!  The door in the corner is to the closet)

Next up we have the other door--the bathroom:

A closer picture of the glass tiles in the bathroom:

This bathroom is fancier than my master bath!

Finally, what is probably my favorite room, my storage closet room!

My Christmas and Halloween decorations are semi-organized!  There is room for some of my tea stuff too--I moved my tiered trays to their new home down here, so I also had the added bonus of organizing my kitchen cabinets to flow a bit better too! 

I even have room for more shelves! 

Just so you know, the floor isn't wood or laminate.  It is actually a vinyl flooring that I picked out because my parents have had some flooding problems in the past in their basement, and their vinyl floor always made clean up just a bit easier, so I thought vinyl would be a much safer option.  Doesn't it look like wood?  I am very happy with how it turned out.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Finally, on to the desserts! 

First up, tiramisu trifle!

These were so easy!  I just put them together the night before, and they were good to go!  I used the recipe here at Yummy Tummy.

Ladyfingers (I found some from Italy at Homegoods--the ones I got were not soft at all)
1 cup whipping cream
2 cups mascarpone
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups coffee (*see instructions below)
Cocoa for topping

1.  *The night before, boil 2 cups of water and add instant coffee (at least 2 tablespoons).  I used International House hazelnut flavored instant coffee.  I ended up using probably about 4 tablespoons to get it to the right flavor, so make sure to try it and see if it is too watery.Store in fridge.  (or make it the day making the dish, but let cool).   
(picture from internet)

2.  Beat cream until it is thick.  Set aside.

3.  Take mascarpone, powdered sugar, and 4 tablespoons of coffee and use a mixer to mix together.  Be careful!  Don't over beat the mascarpone, or it will turn lumpy (and gross).

4.  Fold in the whipped cream.

5.  Take whatever glass you are using (I used crystal teacups), and put a layer of cut up ladyfinger on the bottom.  Cover with a tablespoon or so of coffee (really enough coffee so that ladyfinger is completely covered).  Put a layer of cheese mixture on top.

6.  Repeat.

7.  Put in refrigerator and let sit overnight.

8.  Before you serve, cover with cocoa using a small sieve. 


Next and final recipe, Limoncello cupcakes. 

I found the recipe for these cupcakes here, and did not change anything about the cake, so I won't copy it again here.  I did have some problems with my bake time and they ended up a little dry, but I think that was my execution and not the cupcake, especially since these cupcakes had lemon pudding mix in them, so they should have been moist! 

I did change up the frosting so I will share it below.

White Chocolate Limoncello Icing
2 sticks softened butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup melted white chocolate (a good baking bar with real cocoa)
2 tablespoons Limoncello
1 teaspoon Lemon Extract
Some cream if needed.

1.  Beat butter until pale and creamy,
2.  Add other ingredients and beat to combine.  If need more liquid add a little bit of cream.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pane del Pescatore

We have arrived at the scones portion of the tea!  I based my recipe on one found in my Simply Scones book by Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright called Scones a la Florence.  The book explains that these scones were "inspired by Pane del Pescatore (bread of the fisherman), a scone-like bread from Fornaio, a bakery off the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy." 

(Ponte Vecchio itself!)

After a little internet research, it seems like this dense cookie-like bread was traditionally sold to fisherman who were going out to sea, thus the name "fisherman's bread." 

Pane del Pescatore

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter
zest of 1 large lemon
zest from half of a medium sized orange
1 cup golden raisins
2 large eggs
2 tablespoon cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water for glaze
sliced almonds

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Cover baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Whisk to combine.
3.  Cut in butter until resembles coarse crumbs.
4.  Whisk in zest and toss in raisins.
5.   Combine eggs, cream, and vanilla extract and add to mixture. Add extra cream a tablespoon at a time if needed to combine.
6.  Divide dough into roughly 12 round pieces.  Brush with egg yolk and top with almonds.
7.  Bake for 20 minutes.

I served these scones with faux clotted cream made with mascarpone (a soft Italian cheese, somewhat similar to a sweet and lighter textured cream cheese) and blood orange marmalade imported from Italy.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Italian Savories part 2: Primo

On to the cutest of the dishes I served (or at least I thought so) was spaghetti and meatball cupcakes! 

I found the recipe for these at a blog called By Stephanie Lynn, via pinterest.  I boiled the noodles (1/2 a box) the night before and added 2 tablespoons olive oil, then put it in a bowl in the refrigerator.  The morning of the party, I got out the noodles, mixed in marinara sauce and shredded parmesan cheese (a lot of cheese) to where the noodles looked well covered, then added 2 eggs (beaten).  After mixing everything together, I got out a normal sized cupcake tin and sprayed each well with butter flavored no-stick spray.  I used a fork to swirl noodles on and then place in each well, filling it pretty much to the top.  I then used the back of a spoon to put in an indentation for the meatball.  I then set them aside until right before the guests were due so that they would be warm.

They bake for 20 minutes at 350, so time budgeting was an issue.  I also microwaved the frozen meatballs I had bought based on the package directions and then added marinara sauce and microwaved a bit more, until the sauce was warm.  After the noodles were done, I picked them out of the well, and placed them in doubled cupcake liners (to adsorb some of the sauce and hopefully not show through).  Then topped each noodle cup with the meatball and a little bit of sauce (cheese too if you like, but I didn't think it was necessary--and I forgot.  I also put a LOT of cheese in with the noodles, so I probably had cheese covered).     

They had gone cold by the time I was ready to serve them (which I had been afraid of) but luckily they microwaved up fine.  I just stuck the serving place with them in the liners and everything in the microwave for a couple minutes, and they were good to go!  You could make them the night before and just microwave right before you plan on serving them, but I thought they didn't taste quite as good the next day, which is why I baked them the morning of the party (because normally I'm all about doing as much stuff ahead of time as possible).
I really lucked out with the white and red liners--I found them in the cheap bins near the front at Michaels.  They even had mustaches on the bottom! 
Check back in tomorrow for pane del pescatore!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Italian savories--Antipasti

Let's begin the breakdown of the menu!  First up, the Antipasti. 
Caprese Salad:
I bought cherry tomatoes, cut fresh basil leaves from my container herb garden, and bought some marinated (in olive oil with herbs) small mozzarella balls from my grocery store.  Early in the morning on the day of the tea, I put the number of tomatoes and mozzarella balls needed in a bowl, poured some of the olive oil from the mozzarella container on top, added a dash of balsamic vinegar, and let it sit for a bit.  Then I just layered one tomato, one basil leaf, and one mozzarella ball on red, white, and green fruit picks.  Very easy, and I think they turned out very pretty (and they were also yummy).   

 Cucumber olive crostini:

On the day of the party, the very first thing I did was set out the cream cheese so it could be softening while I made other things on the menu.  After it was soft, I took about 4 ounces of plain cream cheese, added about a tablespoon of plain 2% greek yogurt, and then sprinkled in some dry Italian dressing seasoning pack to taste (probably only about a 1/2 tablespoon or so).  I piped the spread with a large open star tip onto toasted rounds of bread (sourdough cut out with a 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter then toasted in my toaster oven).  I topped it with a slice of cucumber then put a slice of pimento stuffed green olive on top (with a small amount of the spread to make the olive stick).  I'm not a big olive fan, but the olive gave it just a slight kick over a typical cucumber sandwich.   

Tuna tremezzini (Venetian tea sandwiches)
I was really happy with this tuna salad version, which I arrived at after a couple trial versions earlier in the week.  I started with two cans of tuna fish in olive oil that I drained and put in a mixing bowl.  I added 6 ounces of softened plain cream cheese and 8 ounces of softened chive and onion flavored cream cheese.  I added a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and two tablespoons of fresh chopped up dill.  I mixed all the ingredients with my electric hand mixer.  I then spread a generous portion on a slice of Italian bread, topped with another slice of Italian bread, cut off the crusts, then cut the bread in thirds.  Done!  I did sprinkle some dried dill on the sides for looks because I happened to have some in my spice/herb cabinet.  I've always been a little nervous about serving tuna salad because I was afraid there would be some people who didn't like it, but my guests really liked this version (as did I, it is really really good!).  I will definitely reuse this recipe. 

At that last minute I decided to go ahead and serve bruschetta too, even though I already had two tomato based things on the menu (the caprese salad and the spaghetti and meatball cupcakes I'll share tomorrow).  I was glad I served them, because they were a big hit, and really weren't hard to make at all. 
The second thing I did (after setting out the cream cheeses) the day of the party was mix the bruschetta topping so it could be sitting on my counter and the flavors mixing together.   I started with this Allrecipe recipe, but made some changes, so I'll share it here.
  In a bowl, combine the following: 
8 roma tomatoes (plum tomatoes) cut in half and remove seeds in the middle, pat dry with a paper towel, then chop
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons of an aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh basil, stems removed and basil chopped
A dash of sea salt (I just used my grinder a couple of turns)
1/4 tsp black pepper
Right before the party was to begin, I put my oven on broiler setting, and placed slices of a French baguette on a cookie sheet (I bought two French baguettes).  Broil for 1-2 minutes until brown.
Top bread with tomato mixture (making sure to spoon on some of the olive oil too).  Top with shredded mozzarella. 
Broil for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. 
The bruschetta had gotten cold by the time it was ready to be served, but it still tasted good (and I've had cold bruschetta, including in Italy, so I guess that is okay!).

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tour of Italy Tea

Benvenuto al mio seminterrato!
(Welcome to my basement!)

My basement has been a work in progress for a couple of years now, but last month the last touches (the flooring) were finally finished!  To celebrate, I held a Tour of Italy tea--in my brand new basement of course!    

As you can see, the décor is still a bit sparse, but that just made it easier to string up some grape lights to serve as window treatments.

I did decorate one wall with a collage of pictures from my trip to Italy last September.  The poster in the middle was a lucky (and very timely) find at my favorite local thrift store--it is of Saint Mark's Square in Venice (and was only $7!).

I've been planning this tea pretty much since I came back from my trip.  I had so many ideas (as did pinterest--people are so clever)!  

I made postcards of the different places I visited to serve as the menu using some of my favorites of the pictures I took in the different cities/towns.  I had more than this (for example, you can see Venice and Burano in the picture above), but here are a couple that I remembered to take a closer picture of:

(Nightime pictures taken in Rome.  Do you also see the tomato can I used for the sunflower centerpiece?  I saw that on pinterest and thought it was so cute, and it came out so nicely!)

(Lucca--a walled city in Tuscany)

(Orvieto, a city on a hilltop in Umbria)

(Sienna--one of my favorite places that I visited, in Tuscany)

And here is the back of the postcard menu:

I based the menu on a traditional Italian meal--with a couple of changes to made it an "afternoon tea." 

First I served the Aperitivo while I was taking pictures and waiting for the last couple of guests--Asti sparking wine imported from Italy (a popular last minute contribution to the party from my dad so it didn't make it on the menu) and non-alcoholic blood orange flavored sparking grape juice made in Italy from Italian wine grapes.

Next we have the Antipasti (the "appetizers" in English).  I served caprese salad skewers, cucumber olive crostini, and tuna tramezzini (the name for tea sandwiches served in Venice).  All of these foods would be served as "appetizers" in Italy,

along with the last of the antipasti--bruschetta!

Next we had the "primo" course (in English the first course) which is typically a pasta dish in Italy--so, spaghetti and meatball "cupcakes"!

But of course with any Italian meal, there must be wine, so I served a "wine" tea.  This pur-eh made by rishi is called Bordeaux and is made with red wine grapes, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, and lavender.  I was a bit nervous about serving a pur-eh since I haven't even decided if I like this kind of tea, but this version was a very good fruity tea, and my guests enjoyed it.

(just as a side note, Bordeaux is a French wine, but there are wines made with those same grapes in Tuscany--they are called "Super Tuscans" so I figures this was close enough).

Next we have the Secondo course (second course) which would typically be a meat course in an Italian meal, but for a tea, this was the perfect time to bring out the scones!

These are pane del pescatore, "bread of the fisherman," a traditional cookie like bread served in Florence that is the closest thing to an "Italian scone," but more on that when I share recipes later this week.

Next up we have the Dolci (Dessert).  A friend brought a lemon mint cake (very yummy and refreshing) pictured in the center on my green cake stand, and in the front are tiramisu trifles that I served in my little crystal teacups.

 (You can see another of the postcards to the left in the picture above--this one is of Padua)

And here is the last dessert--Limoncello white chocolate cupcakes!

After all that food, there is only one thing left to serve--the Limoncello digesto, sipped from these amber cordial glasses.  In case you have never heard of it, Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur.  It is often served after a meal to help with digestion. 

I didn't get a good picture of them, but the tea favor for this party was a Baci Italian chocolate. 
 Image result for baci italian chocolate
(from the internet)

 Here is one final view of the room.  My father did all the work to finish the basement (except for the flooring), and I think he did a wonderful job!

Here is a closeup of the herbs in the window--rosemary, dill, basil, and parsley--to make it look maybe a little like a trattoria (a name for a "homestyle" Italian restaurant).  

(I used to say I would maybe get a dog when my basement was finished--I work too many hours so that won't happen--so my friend gave me a dog pen as a "basement warming" gift!  I got a kick out of that).

I'm so glad you could join me!  I will be sharing recipes from this party all week long.  I'm also joining the following parties:
Update:  Below are links to posts with the recipes from today's tea.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Emeralds of May

An emerald is as green as grass;
A ruby red as blood;
A sapphire shines as blue as heaven;
A flint lies in the mud.
A diamond is a brilliant stone,
To catch the world's desire;
An opal holds a fiery spark;
But a flint holds fire.
~Christina Georgina Rossetti

An emerald is as green as grass, as these pictures prove (or at least grass when it has been raining a lot).

This pretty gold and green Royal Grafton cup and saucer is wearing my favorite emerald ring.

But my emerald ring isn't as dark as my "Russian emerald" necklace, chrome diopside.  

The jeweler allows me to wear the sapphire blue lake on my finger, emerald green leaves around my neck, and take the citrine sunset with me wherever I go. Jewelry has become my daytime link to nature in an office with no windows. And if I have to work late, there's nothing like diamond stars and a pearl full moon against an onyx night sky. ~Astrid Alauda, "Office With No Windows," 2005

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Georgetown, Tudor Place, and Tea Blending

Well, it's been awhile again!  I'm a few weeks late in part because I was busy working preparing for my latest tea party that I can't wait to share (next week!), but first I thought I should (finally) post some of the backlog that I have accumulated while I was not updating.

A couple of weeks ago, I went into Georgetown in Washington, D.C. for the French Market.  As a part of the festivities, Tudor Place was open with some special exhibits.

Tudor Place has been on my list to visit for a long time--it is a historic house and they occasionally serve tea--so I'm sold!  Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance this visit to do a tour of the inside or have tea, but I really enjoyed the exhibits on the grounds.

 There were two tents set up--one was a replica of the dining tent used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

The next tent set up on the side yard was a replica of Washington's personal office tent--

so I guess you could call it the first oval office!

The house wasn't built until 1815--but it does have a connection to George Washington (and thus the tent replicas).  Tudor Place was built by Martha Park Custis Peter, a granddaughter of Martha Washington, and Martha Peter's husband.  

Although I'm always into history, I must say my favorite exhibit was down past the gardens,

in the carriage house...tea blending!!

These two nice ladies had an array of jars filled with herbs and spices to be mixed with black tea!  I got to make a bag of my first custom blend...and it (and the entire visit) was free, since I pre-registered.

And here is the wrapper for my custom tea blend!

I started with black tea, and mixed in some dried lavender, rosemary, and anise leaves (which I hadn't realized was an herb in addition to the spice star anise--learn something new everyday).  These herbs were all grown on the grounds of Tudor Place.

I finally brewed a small pot with my custom blend tonight, and it was really good!  I apparently choose well.  Granted I put in mostly lavender and I'm a big fan of lavender teas.
But even the tea blending had a bit of history!  

In the colonial area, tea would have been sold pressed into bricks like this one.  Bits would be broken off and soaked in hot water.  I held it--it was pretty heavy  considering it was made entirely of tea!
After I left Tudor Place, I couldn't help taking pictures around Georgetown--the Victorian row homes are so lovely!

(And more turrets!  I love turrets :))

 Sadly it was overcast so my pictures have that weird cloudy day background (or lack of a background), but at least it didn't start to rain!