In a previous life, I entertained a great deal more than I do now, and here are some ideas that always went over well.
(Keep in mind that I have no idea as to what you can find locally, so I realize some of these ideas may not be practical. Also, I know that much of this you probably already know, but figured the best thing was just to toss it all out there, and you can take what might be helpful, and ignore what's not.)
Tea sandwiches: First, the bread. Keep in mind that you can use a variety of breads (white, wheat, rye, cinnamon and raisin, pumpernickel, mini-croissants, etc.), and that alone makes it look like you're offering up a large selection, even when you're not. A favorite trick in the US is to spread your sandwich filling on a flour tortilla (I like to grill them briefly first, just to get rid of that raw flour taste), then roll it up and slice into pinwheels. If you don't have flour tortillas, then take slices of white bread, flatten them, spread on your sandwich filling, roll them up and slice.
As for fillings: almost anything using cream cheese as a base can make a tasty tea sandwich but I had particularly good luck with cream cheese & sliced olives (with and without pimentos) (and with and without chopped nuts); minced candied ginger and rum; chopped eggs with minced green onions and a bit of mustard and capers or rinsed caviar; chopped dates and walnuts; sliced cucumbers of course, but don't overlook other vegetables. Very thinly-sliced or minced sweet red onions with cream cheese, a little mayo, and grated Parmesan is terrific. Truthfully, it's impossible to list all the potential combinations. If the mixture seems too thick, thin it with a little milk or cream or mayo. For seasonings, in addition to the obvious salt and pepper, try a favorite blend of seasoning salt, celery salt, bottled salad dressings (or mixes like Good Seasons "Italian"), various paprikas, favorite herbs like tarragon, oregano, basil, Tabasco or other hot sauces, lemon juice, rum or brandy or liqueurs (orange liqueur goes with many things; Khalua is good with cream cheese and chopped nuts), Worsty, soy sauce, Thai sweet chili paste, jarred pickled ginger, or any of the other thousands
of Asian sauces, pickles, chutneys (I really adore Major Gray), pastes, whatever. Stand at the "Asian sauces and seasonings" section in your grocery store and just let your imagination run. As someone said upthread, a sprinkle of curry powder makes many things seem more interesting and tasty and I'm never without it. Think like a mad scientist in your laboratory and mix up small batches of whatever sounds appealing or whatever you have on hand. Peruse recipes for various dips, spreads, cheese balls, etc., that aren't specifically "fillings for tea sandwiches," but that would work perfectly.
Various salads: ham salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, Asian pork salad made with minced pork leftover from last night's dinner and some finely-chopped green onions and water chestnuts. Try various fruits, fresh or dried, mixed in - apples, grapes, raisins, craysins, chopped dried apricots, etc.
Meats: all sorts of potted meat spreads can be really good and an excellent way to use up leftovers of whatever was your main protein course the night before. If you want to do small sandwiches with sliced meats - ham, roast beef, turkey, whatever, it works much better to use those shaved "deli-slices." If you have a meat slicer that will slice it that thinly, that's best, but if you don't, buy it sliced that thinly. Nothing is worse than trying to take a bite of a ham or other meat sandwich, and getting a piece that you can't bite through, and you pull the whole slice of meat out and it flops onto your chin, dripping honey mustard sauce all over your tatas.
A wedge of tasty cheese always puts smiles on faces. Offer a selection of sliced cheeses, or put out a chunk of bleu, drizzled with honey and chopped walnuts. Serve one of those impressive brie or Camembert wheels baked in pastry.
In the American South, you're always
going to get Pimento Cheese (most people just mix it up without a recipe, or buy it already made at their local market, and you can google for a plethora of recipes, but here's a start: Pimento Cheese
) either in small finger sandwiches, or spread into celery stalks, or scooped into bell pepper boats or something. But it's ubiquitous.
Also ubiquitous are Pecan Tassies for a sweet: Pecan Tassies
. For many years, I seriously don't think I went to a single coffee or tea where there wasn't a pretty plate of Pecan Tassies set upon the table. The quintessential Southern ladies' gathering dessert.
Don't forget fresh fruit. It's always welcome. Cut up some apples or melons or pineapples or other seasonal fruit and put it into a Tupperware or other plastic container, toss with 7-Up or Ginger Ale or lemon juice or Fruit Fresh, or something to keep it from turning brown, chill and offer with a smooth dipping sauce made of yogurt or sour cream or Nutella or something. I don't know if you can get Bisquick over there, but good ol' American shortbread takes about 12 minutes to make with that recipe on the box, and it's not too sweet (similar to scones), and they're easy to slide off of your baking sheet, put into a ziplock bag, carry to the party, and then plate up with a ladle of sliced strawberries over, and a squirt or spritz or dollop of sweetened whipped cream on top.
Don't overlook "Pigs in a Blanket" - which for years, I admit I shied away from because it seemed sorta "low rent" or something, I don't know exactly, but the truth is that people love them. Again, most folks just make them up without a particular recipe, but in case you're not familiar with them, here's a recipe: Pigs in a Blanket
And many seafood options, too. Salmon spread is always good, but smoked oysters, sardines, etc., can produce great snacks as well. Here's a crab spread that is great on tea sandwiches, or with crackers, or spread into celery stalks:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 can crab meat, drained, carefully picked through, or you can use some chopped imitation crab meat
1 tsp horseradish
2 T mayo
chopped green onions to taste
Salt & pepper & paprika & hot sauce & garlic powder & lemon juice or other seasonings to taste.
Combine everything and put it in a tightly-sealed container. Chill until firm. You can either mold this onto a plate for serving, or pat it into a log, or whatever other shape you find attractive, and surround with crackers. You can roll it in chopped parsley or almonds or something if you'd like. Or, as I said, you can serve it in celery stalks, or stuffed into cherry tomatoes, or as a filling in tea sandwiches.
Here's another seafood-based spread:
8 oz cream cheese
1 US stick of butter (1/4 pound of butter, not "light butter" or margarine or other butter substitute because it won't work)
Put the cream cheese and the stick of butter into a med-sized mixing bowl and allow to come to room temperature. Combine well. Add:
1 can cooked cocktail shrimp, drained
1/4 C mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt & pepper & white pepper & Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste
1 Tbl grated onion.
Blend thoroughly and chill until serving time, to let the flavors marry.
To serve, you can either allow it to come to room temperature and serve with spreaders and crackers or toast points or crostini, or spread chilled onto bread for tea sandwiches.
And here's a personal favorite Tea Sandwich recipe (from Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel): Empress Hotel Shredded Carrot & Ginger tea sandwiches
Mini-muffins, of course, and cookies. Oatmeal cookies always went over well. Not so sweet as some. And the various "breads" that are more like cakes: zucchini bread, banana nut bread, brown molasses and raisin bread, carrot bread, applesauce bread. Take some softened cream cheese for spreading over.
You can even serve soups. Cold, smooth soups seem to work best - the ones that you can basically sip without needing a spoon. Take it in a thermos, and then serve by pouring into those small clear plastic cocktail or wine glasses. Cold avocado soups are so wonderful, as are fruit soups - cherry, peach, etc. I had a great cold apple soup served just that way, from a thermos, while attending a "formal picnic" (I know that sounds like a contradiction, but that's what it was) while visiting an apple hacienda in Mexico.
A few general tips: if you're serving tea sandwiches with some sort of mayo-based filling, like chicken salad, tuna salad, ham salad, etc., spread a thin layer of butter on the bread first to seal it and keep it from becoming soggy. White bread, in particular, can be difficult to spread with a thick filling. It can be easier if you freeze the bread, and work with it while frozen.
You know, I envy you. I haven't done this sort of entertaining in years, but I always thought it was so much fun. You can basically just mix up anything that suits your whimsy, that flits across your fancy, and give it a try. You're not investing much time, money or energy in it and if something doesn't turn out great, you can toss it away without a second thought. It's not like you've ruined an entire $50 standing rib roast and now you have nothing to serve the 12 hungry dinner guests becoming restless in your living room.
So have fun, and report back!
Edited by Jaymes, 07 April 2012 - 02:21 PM.