What’s Cookin’? PIP! PIP! CHEERY- OH!!!!

Some foods can be served in any season of the year, but nothing says warm sunny weather outdoors on the veranda, in the garden, or in a rugby scrum than tea sandwiches! ..don’t you agree? I know Oscar Wilde thought so! We discussed it all the time when he would drop by! …and I’m planning my annual first tea party at the beach this season with it’s oh-so-civilized flair. It coincides with my annual “Fire Island Cross Country Beach & Obstacle Course Croquet Competition” which we hold every year at the seashore….(right in front of the infamous “meat rack”). Imagine the glamour of all the players dressing in their loveliest linens and eyelet laces, gingham frocks, plus-fours, argyle socks, starched wallpaper stripe shirts with separate stand-up collars, sleeve-garters, boaters, derbies, and picture hats ….and wielding heavy mallets and sending rock-maple balls as projectiles at each other’s heads! Sort of like A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC meets ROLLERBALL!!! …..and I get to feed them all. The refreshment tables are set up along the dune-side of the beach while the players start out from the Pines side of the course and head to Cherry Grove, then turning and going back to the Pines with the sun slowly setting behind them; a perfect way to spend an afternoon on Fire Island! My menu for the tournament is easily portable with a minimum of clean-up or clutter, and a maximum of taste and tastiness! Finger sandwiches and cocktails (both “alcohol” and “non”!) Even the most ardent competitors will melt in your hands with a sumptuous selection of Sybil’s snack-ettes! And HEY! Before you turn up your nose at the thought of finger sandwiches as a holdover from your Grandma’s gardening club, check out some of these little treats!

1) Cucumber Watercress Sandwiches-
Ingredients: 8 oz package of cream cheese
3 tablespoons chopped cucumber (peeled and seeded!!)
2 teaspoons chopped watercress
½ teaspoon of lemon juice
¼ teaspoon of ground pepper
bread of your choice
softened butter
additional ½ cup of minced watercress

Preparation: Combine cream cheese, cucumber, 2 teaspoons of watercress, lemon juice, and pepper in a food processor. Scrape the sides and remix thoroughly. Spread the cream cheese mixture on one slice, pair it with a sister slice. Using either cookie cutters (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs from a bridge set, or various geometric and flower shapes, etc.), a pastry round, or just a knife, cut slices of bread into small neat sandwich sizes without crusts! Then gently butter the cut outer edges of each sandwich and roll them carefully in the finely minced ½ cup of additional watercress. You can bump this recipe a little according to your taste by adding very finely chopped parsley, a pinch of lemon zest, chopped dill, and/or even cold smoked salmon to the cream cheese. I have actually served this one recipe in all its varieties and combinations! Feel free to experiment and let me know your favorites!

2) Classic Deviled Egg Sandwiches-
Ingredients: 6 large hardboiled eggs, grated
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish (optional)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon grated onion (or more to taste)
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon of ground pepper
¾ teaspoon of McCormick’s Salad Seasoning
Bread of your choice

Preparation: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and cover with a sheet of wax paper or Saran wrap to prevent a “skin” from forming on the top. Chill for a few hours. Spread on bread. Prepare sandwiches with cookie cutters, etc. (same as above!). An interesting thing about great egg salad is how wonderfully different it tastes on different kinds of bread; rye, pumpernickel, whole wheat, grain, and basic white!

3) Watercress & Goat Cheese Sandwiches-
Ingredients: 2 logs of fresh softened goat cheese
½ cup of finely minced watercress
5 tablespoons of butter
¾ cup finely crushed toasted pecans
additional watercress sprigs for garnish
cinnamon-raisin, date, or whole wheat bread

Preparation: Combine cheese (Montrachet is my favorite!) and minced watercress in a food processor. Spread on bread and match to sister slices of bread. Again, cookie cutter or prepare crustless sandwiches, and then gently butter outer cut edges. Dip in crushed pecans, arrange on a serving plate, and garnish with watercress sprigs.

4) Chicken-Orange-Lemon Sandwiches-
Ingredients: 1½ cups of chopped roasted chicken breast (dark meat optional)
8 oz cream cheese softened
½ cup toasted pecans finely crushed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
pinch of lemon zest
¼ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of ground pepper
raisin bread or bread of your choice
mandarin orange slices

Preparation: Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Scrape down the sides and remix. On this sandwich, cut the crusts off the bread and shape it before applying the spread because you’re going to toast the slices in the oven at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Allow to cool, then spread cream cheese mixture, match to sister slices and garnish with a mandarin slice. To up the ante on sweetness, you can roast the mandarin slices in the broiler for a few seconds or with your mini-blow torch! Or you can replace the mandarin slices with apricot slices soaked for an hour in fresh orange juice and broiled for a few seconds. This particular sandwich is a winner!!!

There are a thousand different recipes for finger sandwiches….these four are classics that I’ve made for years. But here are a couple of basic all-purpose suggestions for these finger sandwiches and any other recipes you find:

1) Freezing the bread ahead of time until firm makes it easier to cut it into precise and fun shapes whether you’re hand-cutting them or using cookie cutters.
2) If you use cookie cutters (my favorite!!) be sure to reserve specific shapes for specific recipes. Guests will be able to keep their favorites straight.
3) Some folks like to combine different breads on one sandwich; pumpernickel with rye, white with whole wheat, etc. It’s not only decorative, but the differing breads can add to the taste sensation! Again, feel free to experiment!
4) To keep the sandwiches fresh and moist, refrigerate them in sealed containers with a piece of wax paper over them and a moistened paper towel on top. Most sandwiches can be made a day before serving, and still remain fresh if stored properly!

I hope this little sandwich seminar meets the exacting standards of the sophisticates in the Pines! ……Saltaire and Point O’ Woods too, for that matter! And perhaps I’ll extend invitations to all the towns on Fire Island for the annual “Cross Country Beach & Obstacle Course Croquet Competition”. Each town could send its best players (Would they be called “Croquettes”???) We’ll make it our own little sandbar Olympics with fine fellowship, good sportsmanship, and all-around croquet-ness as our ideals! Imagine! Long tables with cloths blowing in the afternoon sea breeze, nodding and smiling spectators, players in pastels and plaids, waiters passing tasteful sandwiches and chilled cocktails, stories of championships past, legendary cannon, carom, and crush shots….and our motto! Embroidered on a waving banner over the field!! “Faster! Higher! Sandier!” Xoxoxoxo, Sybil.