How to Host a Holiday Tea Party

How to Host a Holiday Tea Party

Is it your turn to play hostess for the book club holiday party?

Are you overwhelmed at the thought of having plates full of leftover cookies from your annual cookie party?

Do you want a way to keep things a little simpler this Christmas as you celebrate with friends?

All of these problems can be solved with one fantastic solution:

Host a holiday tea party!

Despite what you may see on London travel websites or Downton Abbey, taking afternoon tea does not have to be a fancy affair. It offers the perfect combination of warmth on a cold snowy day and the opportunity to sample new tastes without going overboard. You can put together a tea party in less time than it takes to explain the rules of the ornament exchange (again) to everyone. Here’s your How to Host a Holiday Tea Party checklist.

Pick a date and time.
While a tea party is best in the afternoon (so everyone has time to come down from the caffeine buzz) it can also be an evening affair. The time of day you choose to have your tea will dictate the varieties of teas you will share with your guests. When you send out the invitations, ask everyone to bring their own tea cup (for easier clean up).

Plan your tea menu.
I would suggest serving 3-5 teas at your party. You want some variety for the fun of it plus you want to meet the needs of your guests, some of whom may not like or be able to drink caffeinated beverages. Just before Thanksgiving Mama Jean’s Natural Market helped me host a holiday tea, in the evening, for my clients. Our tea menu was as a follows:

  1. Blackberry Sage black tea (Republic of Tea)
  2. Pumpkin Spice Tea black tea (Republic of Tea)
  3. Milk Oolong
  4. Good Hope Vanilla roobis tea (Republic of Tea)
  5. Hot Apple Cider herbal tea (Republic of Tea)

I might also suggest a jasmine or genmaicha green tea to round out the tea varieties.  Using bagged tea will make preparation and clean up much easier. Just look for bagged teas that are whole leaf if possible.

Choose a simple selection of tea foods.
Mama Jean’s made this easy for me! The staff planned an amazing menu that can use as template for your own tea party.

selection of tea foods.

  • Roasted Sweet Potato Slices topped with garlic hummus (olives and green onions, optional)
  • Autumn Brussels Sprouts Salad (recipe courtesy of Karen Brooks-Pender from the Republic Rd Mama Jean’s see below.)
  • Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Raw Date Balls
  • Apple Crisp (This is another recipe courtesy of Mama Jean’s see below.)

We had more than enough food for 10 people so feel free to select only 2-3 dishes for your tea party. Make the tea the focus, not the food.

Make sure you have other supplies in addition to food and tea.
You may need extra napkins or small plates but silverware needs should be limited. Make sure you do have one or two pots of hot water for the guests to use to make their cups of tea as well as a place to dispose of tea bags.

Plan an activity or two.
If you don’t have a book to discuss you might consider putting out playing cards, trivia games or any other activity that might spur laughs or conversation. If you and your friends are crafty have them bring their knitting or scrapbook pages along.

The day of the party all you have to do is set the table, find the Christmas station on Pandora, make a simple dish or two and boil some water!

What’s your favorite low stress way to have fun with friends over the holidays? Do you have a favorite holiday blend of tea?

Autumn Brussels Sprouts Salad

Autumn Brussels Sprouts Salad

Roast 2 qts halved and rinsed Brussels sprouts in olive oil with salt and pepper.
In a separate pan heat 2 cups of orange juice and ½ cup maple syrup and add 1 cup each dried and fresh cranberries.
Bring to a boil, letting the fresh cranberries “pop” and the mixture thicken. Cool.
Chop Romaine lettuce and toss together with pecans and other ingredients once they have completely cooled.
Adjust flavor and ingredients to desired visual and taste.

Apple Crisp

In a pan mix:
6 cups diced apples
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup golden raisins and
1 dash of salt

In a separate dish mix the topping ingredients:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup gluten free flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup Earth Balance Vegan Butter Spread.

Sprinkle the topping over the apple mixture and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until brown.

Gluten Free Apple Cider Pancakes Recipe

Gluten Free Apple Cider Pancakes Recipe

Photo by Pamela Hernandez

I have a client named Erin who is an exceptional cook and baker. In fact, she used to bake cakes professionally but had to give it up when she was diagnosed with a severe wheat allergy. Going completely gluten free was not an easy transition, but it was the only option she had if she wanted to live an active and healthy life.

Erin, who grew up in a home where everything was made from scratch, had to relearn cooking. Being so knowledgeable about food has helped her create some very yummy gluten free substitutions for common flour based comfort foods. When she told me about her Apple Cider Pancakes, I knew I had to have the recipe. When I asked her for it she tried to tell me it wasn’t really a recipe. She said all she did was substitute apple cider for the milk in the gluten free pancake mix. But as we talked she kept telling me about more modifications and additions. I say when you make more than one substitution it becomes a recipe. I hope you find these pancakes as deliciously simple as I did. Thanks for sharing Erin!

Gluten Free Apple Cider Pancakes

  • 1 1/8 cup King Arthur Gluten Free Pancake Mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 scoop vanilla or unflavored whey protein powder (I use Designer Whey French Vanilla)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (if using unflavored protein powder)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Combine liquid ingredients and add to the dry ingredients. Mix well.
  3. Let mixture sit for up to 15 minutes. (This makes for a fluffier pancake.)
  4. Heat a non-stick griddle over medium heat. Spray with olive oil cooking spray.
  5. Poor ¼ cup of batter to form pancakes. Cook until bubbles start to form, then flip. Cook for additional one to two minutes.
  6. Serve immediately.

Yield: 8 Pancakes
Prep Time: 20 Minutes (includes 15 Minutes to Sit)
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Serving: 1 Pancake

Per Serving: Calories 116; Total Fat 5g; (Sat Fat 1g, Trans 0g, Poly Fat 0g, Mono Fat 1g); Protein 4g; Carb 16g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 4g; Cholesterol 38mg; Sodium 122mg

You can top them with your choice of ingredients. A little butter or maple syrup works well. I like mixing 1 tbsp of PB2 with 1 tbsp of maple syrup and little water. Then I drizzle it over the pancakes. Enjoy!

Farmers Market Finds for October

Fall vegetables may be the ones I have the least experience with. Zucchini, berries, asparagus, sweet corn and peppers are easy to cook and add to various dishes. Beets, turnips and delicata squash are like a foreign language to me. Yet they looked so beautiful at the farmers market this month I just couldn’t say no.

Ever since getting my Ninja I want to try juicing everything. When I saw the garnet red beets at the market I had a vision of a brilliant red post run smoothie. Sometimes the vision is better than the reality. I made a slight variation of this Cranberry Beet Smoothie from Runner’s World, twice. It was not entirely unpleasant, still drinkable, but I wouldn’t call it a win. Failure is how we learn, right? I think beets will be more pleasing to me if I roast them instead of drink them next time. The trick will be how to do it without making my kitchen look like a murder scene. Anyone have tips on how to peel and slice a beet without getting the red everywhere?

The next kitchen experiment was the delicata squash. Squash is more familiar territory but I’ve never tried this particular variety. For over a year I’ve been making a chickpeas salad recipe from Vegetarian Times that shares a page with a recipe for Red Curry Delicata Squash and Tofu. Every time I make the chickpea salad, I tell myself that I am going to try the curry recipe “someday”. No more some day! I thought it was delicious and it passed my husband’s test for flavor (a little spicy, but not curry overload).

The last experiment was with the turnips. I was inspired by another recipe, this one from Health magazine. I’ve been trying to be a good steward of our grocery budget, planning meals around my overstock of pantry staples. I always have most of the ingredients for the Moroccan and Turnip Chickpea Braise on hand. I used quinoa instead of couscous to boost the protein power.  It turned out to be a “maybe”. I tasted okay but it was missing something. I may try it again but add a couple of extras to see if I can bring out the flavor a bit. If you give it a try tell me if you liked it “as is” or if you added a little something.

It wasn’t long ago that the coming of fall meant the end of the farmers market. I am so glad that the Farmers Market of the Ozarks will continue to have a winter market. Several vendors have told me I might be surprised what the market has to offer during the colder months. I’m looking forward to being inspired all winter long.

What about you? How do you feel about beets and turnips? Does your local market stay open year round?

Tired of Pumpkin Spice? Try my Apple Pie Protein Smoothie Recipe!

I don’t get excited for Pumpkin Spice Lattes. For one, I am a tea drinker. Two, I eat pumpkin all year long. I eat pumpkin every morning in my Morning Mug Souffle and every night in my pumpkin pie oatmeal. What really excites me about fall is the apple harvest.

When I found the first gala apples of the season at the Farmers Market I almost jumped for joy. While I eat apples all year long too, nothing tastes better than the first bite of a crisp sweet local apple in September. While everyone else is putting pumpkin or pumpkin spice in everything (pumpkin spice salad dressing anyone?), I am experimenting with new ways to eat my apples.

With the help of my new Ninja Ultima, I turned MY fall favorite into a deliciously decadent protein smoothie. Pick your favorite sweet apple and give it a try.

Apple Pie Protein Smoothie

  • 1 small (2 inches in diameter) apple, cored and chopped
  • 4 pitted dates, chopped
  • 1 scoop Designer Whey Vanilla Praline
  • ¾ unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger

Put all ingredients into blend. Blend until smooth. Makes 1 serving.

Yield: 1 Smoothie
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: NA

Per Serving: Calories 300; Total Fat 4.4g; (Sat Fat 1g, Trans 0g, Poly Fat 0g, Mono Fat 1g); Protein 20g; Carb 49g; Fiber 4g; Sugars 13g; Cholesterol 60mg; Sodium 115mg

If you’re still craving pumpkin, check out this Protein Pumpkin Pie Shake recipe from Designer Whey!

Farmers Market Finds for September

September at the Farmers Market is a perfect mix of summer and fall. There are still plenty of summer favorites like zucchini and peppers with a few tomatoes too. Next to them you will find the beginnings of the fall harvest, which includes two of my favorite vegetables: butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes can be found at the supermarket all year long. While their appearance may be less appealing during the spring and summer, their taste is usually consistent no matter the season. Butternut squash, on the other hand, is a vegetable that only reveals its true nature during its peak season. I’ve tried to make some of my favorite dishes like butternut squash soup or butternut squash bread pudding with store bought squash during the off months. Let’s just say the results were a bit underwhelming.

You MUST take advantage of the bright orange and naturally sweet flesh of the butternut squash NOW. I’ve been making my favorites as well as experimenting with new recipes. These Butternut Squash, Kale and Crunchy Pepita tacos are divine!

I’ve also learned that butternut squash can be eaten raw! I made Butternut Squash with Cream Sauce using the Spiralizer. It’s a very fall dish that includes apples and cranberries, slightly sweet and very crunchy. Just be warned: making butternut squash noodles is an arm workout.

Speaking of apples, they made their first appearance at the market in late August. Not only will you find my favorite, Gala, you’ll find other sweet varieties like Honeycrisp, Fuji and Ozark Gold. These apples can help satisfy your sweet tooth and meet the need for something crunchy with your lunchtime sandwich. I’ve been experimenting with a new apple recipe or two but they aren’t quite ready to share. Stay tuned!

Besides my fall favorites I’m also loving the fresh Portobello mushrooms. I keep making these Bistro White Bean Burgers because they are easy  and I have most of the ingredients in my pantry at all times. I keep buying kale too and adding it to my chocolate and peanut butter protein shakes and green monster smoothies.

I’m going to be sad as peak farmers market season starts approaching. I am already morning the loss of the white peaches and blueberries. What seasonal favorite passed too quickly for you this year? What fall produce are you looking forward to?

Garlic and Dill Cucumber Noodle Salad Recipe

I love it when my clients start getting creative in the kitchen. Most of them are much more talented when it comes to creating recipes than I am. When Stephanie started making noodle creations with zucchini and cucumbers I had to ask her for a recipe to share. Thankfully she said yes! Enjoy!
– Pamela

School may be back in session but that doesn’t mean the cool temps of fall have arrived. The generously warm temperatures we can experience the first part of September can be absolutely miserable. When you are miserable from the heat you don’t want to slave away in a hot kitchen to prepare a healthy meal. So how about a fresh, cool and simple dish that is full of flavor?

Ixnay the Astapay (Pig Latin for Nix the Pasta) Pasta Salads are some fun dishes I invented in my kitchen this summer. I am excited to share one of them with you today, Garlic and Dill Cucumber Noodle Salad.

There are only 6 simple ingredients to this dish.

  • Plain Yogurt (I use Greek but feel free to use your favorite)
  • Organic Garlic Paste (If you can’t find this at the store just use some fresh garlic on a mircoplane grater)
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Fresh Dill
  • 3 or 4 medium to large cucumbers
  • Optional: Red Pepper Flake or Mrs. Dash Extra Spicy Seasoning

In a medium size bowl measure out:

  • 1/2 cup of yogurt
  • 1 TBS Garlic Paste
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of dill
  • 1 tsp minced fresh garlic
  • If you choose, red pepper flake or Mrs. Dash Seasoning to taste.

Mix well.

Julienne your cucumbers via your favorite method. (I personally love the Veggetti.)

Sometimes I peel the cucumbers and sometimes I don’t. Occasionally I will run across a cucumber with a very bitter peel, in which case I peel it. I always test the cucumber by tasting an end piece before I slice it up.

Once your cucumbers have been noodled, just toss them with the yogurt mixture and chill!

Yield: 1 Salad
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour to Chill

Per Serving: Calories 170; Total Fat 1.3g; (Sat Fat 0g, Trans 0g, Poly Fat 0g, Mono Fat 0g); Protein 17g; Carb 24g; Fiber 6g; Sugars 16g; Cholesterol 10mg; Sodium 55mg

I hope you enjoy this salad and are inspired to start experimenting in your kitchen!

Review of Neat – A Healthy Replacement for Meat

Disclaimer: I was provided Neat at no cost by the company. However, I was neither asked to write this review or compensated to do so.

There are many different vegetarian meat substitutes on the market. Many of them have a long list of questionable ingredients. They may also have ingredients that are off limits to those with allergies to soy or gluten. To be honest some of them also taste awful. I’m always interested when I see a new product trying to solve all of these problems. Neat, a shelf stable mix, is trying to fill the “meat gap” for vegetarians and vegans alike in a more natural way.

Neat isn’t completely new to the market, but sometimes it takes awhile for product to filter down to the Midwest. My first encounter with Neat was just a couple of months ago when it caught my eye on the NEW Products shelf at Mama Jean’s. I was excited to encounter them on Twitter and super excited when they agreed to send me a sample pack of their products to experiment with. They included one package of each flavor: Original, Italian, Mexican and Breakfast. Each flavor is very easy to make. You add egg (or egg substitute) and water. You can shape the Breakfast mix into patties or links, the Italian into balls (aka neat Balls) or the Original into burgers.

I decided to start with my favorite meal: brinner (breakfast for dinner). I was making a tofu frittata with my farmers market finds (link to July Finds post) and some “sausage” on the side sounded perfect. I decided to use chia seeds as a vegan egg replacer. I soaked 1 tbsp. of chia seeds in ½ cup water for about 15 minutes. Then I added the chia seeds to the Neat breakfast patty mix. Only after that did I read the realize I needed a quantity equal to TWO eggs. I decided to just wing it and adjust with the added water. My breakfast patties came out a bit dry. Since the flavor was good, I chalked up the dryness to my error in following directions.

The next night I vowed to follow the instructions perfectly. I made the Neat Balls to serve with spaghetti squash. I tossed the spaghetti squash with olive oil, basil, chili flakes, pepper and Parmesan cheese. I made the Neat mixture with whole eggs and followed the Neat Ball recipe on the back of the package. The Neat Balls browned nicely in the oven and Brian made a comment about how good they smelled while cooking. The flavor was great but once again the finished product came out dry. Brian made the comment that when he wrapped the squash around the Neat Ball it changed the texture a great deal. We decided the Neat products needed extra moisture to live up to their true potential.

I tried a little experiment with one of the leftover breakfast patties. Instead of my usual omelet for Sunday lunch, I decided to make a scramble. I sautéed half a green pepper and half of a small red onion. Then I scrambled one whole egg and three egg whites in the same pan. When the eggs were close to being done I crumbled up the breakfast patty into the egg mixture to warm it up. Once on my plate I added some salsa on top. This is how Neat should be used! It gave me a great sausage flavor and lost its dryness when surrounded by other ingredients. Neat may not stand well on it’s own, but IN something it’s great alternative to soy crumbles or a frozen veggie patty.

As with any meat substitute it’s important to note that Neat doesn’t taste like meat. If you expect it too you will be disappointed. It does taste good but you aren’t going to fool a carnivore. It’s just different. If you accept that up front you’ll find this product a useful and tasty tool in creating new meatless Monday dishes or revamping family classics. Also be aware that the products are made with nuts making them inappropriate for those with nut allergies.

Now that I know with Neat “the secret is in the sauce” I can’t wait to make the lettuce wrap recipe from their blog or create my own new taco recipe.

How do you feel about meat substitutes? What’s your favorite way to make a family favorite meatless? Have you tried Neat?