Hannah Drake

Entertaining

How to Host Afternoon Tea

EntertainingHannah DrakeComment

My friend Taylor and I have been talking about hosting a garden party since probably early 2018. We wanted to do it for the first time last summer, but scheduling didn’t allow for it. This year, we were determined to make it a priority and we were able to find a date in early June that would work for both of us. We didn’t have any reason to do it other than we wanted to do something special and hang out with our friends, but an event like this would be perfect for a bridal shower, baby shower, or other special occasion.

Our original idea was to have a beautiful garden party in Taylor’s back garden with a prosecco bar, tea, and some light finger food. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas. And after all the hard work Taylor put into her garden leading up to the party, it wasn’t even an option to be outside anymore. It poured rain in the days leading up to the party and the morning of, it was grey, windy, raining, and cold. We were able to call an audible and make arrangements to host the party inside. Of course we were sad that people weren’t able to come, but it ended up being a good size group for the space we had in Taylor’s house.

We had a really clear vision of what we wanted the party to look like. It was girls only because we figured the men wouldn’t appreciate getting dressed up and using china quite as much as the ladies would. The dress code was “garden smart” with a hat or fascinator required. We were basically picturing horse race/ascot attire. We wanted to keep the decor to a minimum since Taylor’s garden is really green and lush, but with our plans to move it inside, we just picked up more flowers than we would have originally. We collected china from family (Luke’s mum gave us over a dozen cups, saucers, and small plates) and picked up some more from a nearby charity shop. We were able to rent a case of champagne flutes from Waitrose. It’s actually a fantastic party idea. Luke picked up a case of 48 (the smallest available) on Friday. They’re free to reserve and you only pay £1 per broken glass. We opted to make everything from scratch, so we researched recipes for typical afternoon tea foods to find the very best.

SET A THEME WITH THE INVITATIONS

You might know by now how much I value a good on-theme invitation and an afternoon tea or a garden party is no different. Since we wanted it to be slightly above a casual thing, we send out evites with plenty of time for people to plan ahead. We did have to follow up with some people and remind most people of the dress code, but we agreed that an evite would better fit the tone of the party more than a Facebook event or a group text.

KEEP THE DECORATIONS SIMPLE

Like I mentioned above, our original plans were to let the garden shine in its natural glory, but when we moved things inside, we decided to get more flowers than we would have otherwise. I got a few different prints and patterns of cardstock to use to make bunting that we planned to hang on Taylor’s hedges. Instead, we made three shorter strands to hang around her living room and dining room.

The day before the party, we went to a nearby florist to pick out flowers and greenery to use as centrepieces and around the room. We wanted to go with a light pink and cream colour scheme to match the bunting and the invitations, with different shades of greenery. I’m obsessed with the flowers we got and we divided up the six different arrangements (four on the long table, one on the drinks table, one on the food table) between us after the party. Taylor added extra greenery and baby’s breath to the wreaths she always has hanging in her living room and it looked so cute above the drinks table.

To save costs on flowers, I recommend loading up on greenery and more affordable flowers like baby’s breath and carnations. I’m usually not a carnations person, but Taylor pulled these cream coloured stems and I love how they looked in the bigger arrangements. We only got a few of the “statement” flowers, like snapdragons and peonies to save on costs and it made those flowers stand out even more. I really liked that not all the arrangements were exactly the same, but had similar elements across all six.

HAVE A MIMOSA BAR

For some reason, ever since I first got Pinterest, it’s been one of my dreams to have a mimosa bar at a party. I finally got to see that dream realised! We got three different types of juice (pink grapefruit, mango, and pineapple) and put them in these cute jugs that I got a while ago at our grocery store. Everyone could mix and match their own mimosa and add strawberries, blueberries, and/or raspberries. We had everyone bring a bottle of prosecco to share.

MAKE THE FOOD YOURSELF

When you go to afternoon tea at a fancy restaurant, they’ll bring you a three tiered stand with all the quintessential foods. You start on the bottom and work your way up the three tiers. The first course is finger sandwiches, which will include a variety of fillings and probably both wheat and white bread. This could be chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad, cucumber, ham and brie, smoked salmon, or roast beef. When I hosted an afternoon tea for my friends after my senior year of high school (I know, I was so cool), my mom said we should have white (chicken salad), pink (tuna salad), yellow (egg salad), and green (cucumber). The second course is a traditional English scone with clotted cream and jam. The top tier is dessert. This will be little cakes, petit fours, macarons, etc. We also had mixed berries, which is a really simple thing to do to add more colour and flavour (and nutrients) to your spread.

Here’s exactly what we made:

How to Host Afternoon Tea - Chicken Salad Finger Sandwiches

CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICHES

Taylor made the chicken salad with grapes and walnuts. (The original recipe calls for pecans.) We made all of the sandwiches on both wheat and white bread. I recommend getting as close to rectangular loaves as possible, otherwise you’re cutting off a lot of top crust where it’s uneven. Tea sandwiches always have the crust removed and are cut into thirds or fourths. I cut an X into the sandwiches, which made for two different sized triangles. I wish I had just cut them all into three strips (from top to bottom).

How to Host Afternoon Tea - Cucumber Mint Finger Sandwiches

CUCUMBER MINT SANDWICHES

Taylor found a cucumber and mint recipe to use. Cucumber sandwiches are quintessential for a proper English tea, if you ask me. You can do cucumber with butter or cream cheese. You can do it with mint or dill. Or I suppose you could do something completely different. Like the other sandwiches, we made them on both wheat and white bread. I cut them into triangles, but again wish I had cut them into three strips.

How to Host Afternoon Tea - Egg Salad Finger Sandwiches

EGG SALAD SANDWICHES

I found a really simple egg salad recipe to use. I very easily tripled the recipe to account for us having a dozen people, which made enough for three full sandwiches, or 12 finger sandwiches. Again, we did both white and wheat. And actually, I really love how cute the little circular sandwiches look from the original recipe. I also skipped the parsley and used regular mayo instead of Japanese mayo.

How to Host Afternoon Tea - English Scones

SCONES

I only trusted a British site to give me a good recipe for proper English scones and BBC Good Food came through for me. They were really simple to make and when I forgot to put the sugar in the first batch, it was easy to whip up a second. I used my second smallest pastry cutter to cut them out and made 16 in each batch. I’m not sure if that’s double what the recipe says it serves or if one serving is two scones, but I also think I could have gone a little thicker on rolling the dough out. Since there’s so little sugar in the recipe, there wasn’t much of a difference between the two batches, especially when you had the cream and/or jam on as well. (I’m a cream only person.)

How to Host Afternoon Tea - Lavender Macarons

LAVENDER MACARONS

Taylor made gorgeous lavender macarons, completely from scratch. She was able to make the shells in advance and make the filling closer to the party. I think she wishes she had made the buttercream and filled the macarons on the same day though. Regardless, I think they turned out absolutely gorgeous and I love the dried lavender buds on the tops!

How to Host Afternoon Tea - Rose & Elderflower Petit Fours

ROSE & ELDERFLOWER PETIT FOURS

Of course I turned to Sally’s Baking Addiction for a simple petit fours recipe, though I did make some tweaks. Instead of making a lemon cake, I flavoured the batter with 1 tablespoon of rose water (this replaced the 3 tablespoons of lemon juice in the recipe). Her step-by-step instructions and corresponding video were really helpful, but I decided to make the petit fours with just a single layer of filling, spreading rose and elderflower curd on one side and the vanilla buttercream from the recipe on the other side. I wish I had measured out the cuts I made so they were more uniform, but they turned out okay. I used her Perfect Vanilla Icing recipe for the icing, colouring it with just a touch of pink food colouring. I scaled up the recipe to use 5 cups of confectioner’s sugar and kept it vanilla so the rose wasn’t too overpowering. I let the first coating dry before adding a second to help the colour pop on the cakes more. I topped them with edible rose petals before the second coat of icing was dry.

How to Host Afternoon Tea - Lemon Petit Fours

LEMON PETIT FOURS

If I had had enough cream cheese let to make another batch of the original petit fours recipe, I would have. But I decided to try a different lemon cake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction when I thought it would be good to have a non-floral dessert option. I used her three layer lemon cake recipe, dividing it into two layers instead of three to make thicker cakes. I opted not to do a filling on this batch and keep it simple. I used my smallest pastry cutter to cut out ten small cakes from each layer. I then used the same icing recipe with a touch of yellow food colouring for a nice pastel shade. I garnished the cakes with fresh lemon zest, though I wish I had waited until the second coat of icing had hardened.

HAVE FAVOURS

We decided that instead of including decorated sugar cookies in the spread, we would have them as favours for everyone. We baked the cookies earlier than most of the food so the process of decorating them wouldn’t interfere much with making the rest of the food. The original idea was to write everyone’s name on their cookie, but Taylor, who did all the decorations on them, found that just a first initial would be a lot easier. They turned out really well, I think! And I finally got to use the little cellophane bags I’ve had in my baking supplies for ages.

Taylor’s Dress (in blue) | My Dress | My Fascinator

If you’re worried about making so many different recipes, I would recommend looking into local bakeries who can make some pastries affordably to take things off your plate. We found a bakery that sold scones for 55p each, but it was too far away to make it worth it for us. If you’re worried about some of the desserts, those are really easy to get from a bakery.

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25 Perfect Summer Cocktails

EntertainingHannah DrakeComment

Putting in our bar cabinet last year basically created a self-fulfilling prophecy that we would become known for making cool cocktails when we’re hosting and cultivate quite a large collection of spirits and liqueurs.

Tip for Growing Your Home Bar: Add 1 bottle a month to your grocery list. Buy what's currently on sale. You'll quickly start a nice collection and be able to fill in the holes when making speciality drinks.

With summer coming up and hopefully many warm afternoons and evenings in the garden ahead, I’ve gather a list from across the web (read: Pinterest) of cocktails we should all add to our list to make this season. So instead of warming up with 25 Fall Cocktails, let’s cool off and daydream about being on holiday on a beach instead.

BUBBLY COCKTAILS

Rosé Spritzer from The Sweetest Occasion

Which one would you try first?

4 Tips for a DIY Taco Bar

EntertainingHannah DrakeComment

A few weeks ago, I shared a photo of our dinner on my Instagram Stories. We were having carnitas tacos, one of my favourites! My friend Taylor messaged me about it and it turned into me, Taylor, and Luke hatching the idea for a Cinco de Mayo party. I was hesitant to do anything on the actual 5th of May because it’s a Sunday and I’m very protective of my Sunday nights, so I suggested the 4th instead. That’s when Luke decided we should honour one of the greatest TV shows of all time, Arrested Development, and do a Cinco de Cuatro party instead! (Of course it’s a reference from what’s easily the worst season, but still.) Later, I realised that the 6th, a Monday, is also a bank holiday, so it would have been fine, but we stuck with Cinco de Cuatro.

So to prepare for our party, I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to set up a taco bar and I’ve found quite a few tips that I thought I’d share with all of you. But really quick, I just want to be clear that while we’re calling it Cinco de Cuatro because it’s on May 4th (a joke from Arrested Development, if you haven’t seen it) and it’s a play on Cinco de Mayo, a day of celebration to honour the Mexican Army’s win over the French (not Mexican Independence day, by the way), it’s mostly an excuse to invite over both American and British friends to hang out and indulge in delicious Mexican food, which is pretty tricky to come by in the UK.

OFFER SOME OPTIONS ON THE BASICS

You definitely want to start with options. I like to think of it like a small-scale Chipotle. They have options on tortillas (both in kind and size). They have options on meat and usually include a vegetarian option. Of course you don’t want to go full Chipotle, but you still want to offer your guests options.

We’ve decided to go with chicken and pork because they’re easy and very doable in the slow cooker. As for tortillas, they’re not as readily available in the UK as they are in the States, but we want to offer two different sizes so people can do tacos or making their own burritos if they’d rather.

DON’T SKIMP ON THE TOPPINGS

The toppings are where it’s at! You never know what your guests will want, so you want to give them plenty to choose from. Again, thinking back to Chipotle, they have two different beans options, two different rice options, a few different salsas to choose from, and lots of veggies. You don’t have to do as much, but for the most part, the prep is just lots of chopping, so it shouldn’t be a ton of work.

We’re planning on doing rice (probably Chipotle style, because I love Chipotle…obviously), black beans, corn, cheese, sour cream, coriander (cilantro), onions, and a few different salsas.

Of course we’re going to do chips with guacamole and queso as well!

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE MARGARITAS

No taco party would be complete without margaritas! For some reason, I find margaritas to be one of the trickiest cocktails to make and I’m not sure exactly sure why. They just give me anxiety, but I still have a few days to find the perfect margarita recipe. We’re of course going to have them on the rocks, but personally, I’m more of a frozen margarita person, so we’re going to do some fruity options, probably like strawberry, mango, and/or pineapple. I’m so excited!

DECORATE COLOURFULLY

I’m taking decor inspiration from the movie Coco. I absolutely love that movie and it’s so visually stunning. We’re not going ALL out, but I as able to find some colourful bunting and the colourful flags, along with some pompoms and other wall and ceiling decor. I’m also going to get those gold foil letter balloons (for the first time) and I’m totally kicking myself that I didn’t think to get “taco bout a party”. I love that!

PIN FOR LATER!

All of the photos were found via Pinterest. If you click on them, it will take you to the original source or the original pin if it wasn’t linked.