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Friday, April 29, 2011

Lunch Box: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

Pictured: Cream cheese, Cucumber and Rocket
+ the Royal Wedding:

For those of us who didn't merit an invitation, but have been a fussy dribbling mess over the whole business for weeks, this post is for you (er, me too). I woke up at five thirty to get ready for work and brew a few cups of tea; which, is no small order at quarter of six o'clock. The real die hards got up even earlier, and even though I missed Catherine's (formerly Kate) grand automobile entrance, and the live coverage of the balcony kiss, I count the morning as a success. Where would we be without the Internet, I ask? It was a small consolation to know that I was not alone on this auspicious day, and an even greater consolation to have shared the morning with early rising friends over tea with cream and these traditional English cucumber sandwiches. For those of you who missed the great event, I've posted a highlight of links at the bottom of the page.

Once the glow and applause of the ceremony wore off everyone - a select few hundred - retired to an elegant royal luncheon while I clung to a germy hand rail in a train rattling through clouds of exhaust towards Friday morning at the office. All the kitsch and the hype could never have prepared me for the gentle elegance of the event: the beautiful femininity of the gown, the easy smiles and happy poise of the couple, the pageantry and subtle reminders of the union of tradition and a lustrous vibrant history - and the hates, my God, the hats! The hats alone would have been worth waking up for.

There were a number of commemorative efforts made well before the bells rang in Westminster, however. My personal favoritewas, in fact, the Royal Wedding donut distributed by Dunkin Donuts: a heart shaped donut, glazed and drizzled with chocolate and a romantic - if indiscriminate - red jelly filling. Call me conservative, but I hope no event in my life is ever commemorated with something as homely as a donut. The lack of a belly-button like hole and a "jelly" that, undoubtedly, squirts out after the first bite could not really make it worthy of commemorating royal nuptuals, could it? Perhaps not in the United Kingdom, but here in America it most certainly did. (For a more complete list of the edible honor guard check out the Eatocracy blog on cnn.com)

The British, for all their indulgent tea-time sweets, have a reserved and elegant palette when it comes to luncheons. I have no doubt that the Queen's post-ceremony lunch will be the embodiment of that elegance. So, for the peons who faced and eight hour work day instead carriages, parades and quail eggs this recipe for Cucumber Tea Sandwiches is quietly appropriate. The recipe itself comes from Waitrose Super Market (a British chain). The cool crisp cucumber pairs beautifully with the soft, sweet bread. A few sprigs of watercress (or rocket) add a lightly peppery flavor that blends perfectly with your Earl grey or English breakfast tea. Packing your lunch, even if it is just to go to work, does not have have to be a drab affair. After all, peanut butter and jelly is no way to celebrate a royal wedding.

When I was younger I loved to watch Mr. Bean, a character performed by Rowan Atkinson. (Of course, Rowan was in attendance at William and Catherine's wedding) I couldn't help but remember this skit "Making Sandwiches in the Park" when I was writing this post. It is grosely humorous in a subtle British way that is almost beyond my grasp. Almost. I about died when he put lettuce leaves in a sock and spun it around his head like a helicopter. In the end, Mr. Bean taught me everything I needed to know about a good, wholesome British sandwich. Educate yourselves before continuing.

Notes: I love tea sandwiches, but I never can never bring myself to use white bread. A classic tea sandwich would be served on white bread, but you can also use pumpernickel or wheat and still be on the right path. Make sure you use something fresh and steer clear of baguettes and anything with a crispy, chewy crust. If your bread is particularly fresh be sure to let your butter come to room temperature, otherwise you will tear the bread trying to spread it with butter. If you prefer, you can also cut these sandwiches into shapes using cookie cutters or, for an even more elegant twist, thin the bread slightly by rolling it with a rolling pin and moderate pressure between two sheets of waxed paper.

Classic Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
Recipe by Waitrose market, via cnn.com

3 1/2 tablespoons butter (goat's)
4 tablespoons chopped watercress or rocket (aka arugla)
8 slices sandwich bread
1/4 cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced
cracked black pepper (optional)

1. Let the butter warm up on the counter 20-30 minutes. Or, give it a zap in the microwave, but don't melt it.
2. Wash and dry the cucumber, peeling it if desired. Slice 1/4 the cucumber into very thin rounds.
3. Stack two slices of bread one on top of the other. Using a serrated knife, cut down to remove the crusts completely. Butter both slices of the bread lightly.
4. Layer a few slices of cucumber on one slice of bread. Top with the chopped water cress or rocket, pepper and the second slice of bread. Repeat.
5. Cut on a diagonal to form triangles.

For a little more sustenance you can butter one slice of bread and spread room temperature cream cheese on the other side, topping with cucumber and water cress as listed above.

Links from the big day:

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