After three weeks of travel—eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants—I was glad to get home to my kitchen. The refrigerator was empty; the pantry shelves, bare. Without taking time to find recipes or make a grocery list, I headed to the store because I was committed to bring finger sandwiches to a meeting the next day. It’s been years since I’ve made finger sandwiches from scratch, but it was a welcome escape from my book and my “Lev work.”
In the years since Lev’s death, as I have adjusted to cooking for one—and especially since I changed to a healthier diet almost four years ago—I have given myself permission to throw away leftovers, and I’ve learned how to stock my refrigerator; so it wasn’t a huge challenge to add simple sandwich materials to my standard mental list.
I cheated some. A superb cook confessed to me that she buys Eggland boiled, peeled eggs in the dairy department, so I decided to try them—a huge timesaver. I also used chicken salad from the deli department for my third variety of sandwiches, assembled exactly as described in the recipes below. The whole process for three varieties of sandwiches took about two hours.
I learned to make fancy sandwiches from my old Joy of Cooking, a wedding gift. I can no longer go to a bakery and order my bread sliced horizontally for easy assembly, but I can still use Rombauer and Becker’s tricks of keeping a damp cloth close by to keep the bread from drying out and spreading the bread with butter so that the bread doesn’t get soggy.
I never liked deviled eggs until I had my mother-in-law’s. Her egg yolks were creamy—blended with a little cream and Durkee, which I had never heard of. It’s an old-fashioned mustard/mayo blend, and I can usually find a few jars on the top shelf at my grocery. If you need a substitute, blend a little mustard with your mayo.
Cucumber Finger Sandwiches
1 medium cucumber, chopped fine
8-oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped green onions or chives
salt and white pepper to taste
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
24 slices sandwich bread, preferably Pepperidge Farm Very Thin
Work quickly to keep bread from drying out. Gather all equipment in advance, including a jelly roll pan to store the finished sandwiches, wax paper and a large moist tea towel.
- Chop cucumber and spread out immediately on wax paper. Sprinkle with salt to draw out excess moisture. Set aside.
- Blend cream cheese and yogurt until smooth. Add dill and blend. Set aside to season.
- Place paper towels on top of the cucumber and press down firmly to extract moisture. Mix cucumbers with celery and onion. Season with white pepper to taste. Stir into cream cheese mix. Set aside.
- Prepare only a few sandwiches at a time; lay slices of bread on your counter and spread butter as thinly as possible on every slice. Spread half the slices with cucumber mix. Close the sandwiches, stack 3 or 4 at a time, and with a long bread knife, remove crusts and cut in triangles or rectangles. Place sandwiches in a single layer in jelly roll pan; cover immediately with damp tea towel. Continue until all sandwiches are made. Store in refrigerator with wax paper between layers and the moist tea towel covering the top. To serve, place on a pretty tray or platter with a doily. I like vintage round glass sandwich platters. Keep covered with a tea towel as long as possible, since bread dries out very quickly.
Makes about 24 small sandwiches.
Egg Salad Finger Sandwiches
6 chopped hard-boiled eggs
¾ cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
¼ cup Durkee Famous Sandwich Sauce
1 tablespoon each celery and chopped green onion or chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or parsley
salt and white pepper to taste
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
24 slices thin sandwich bread, preferably Pepperidge Farms Very Thin whole wheat
Mix together all ingredients except butter until egg mixture is very creamy. See Step 4, above, for spreading sandwich bread and assembling, storing and serving sandwiches.
Makes about 24 small sandwiches
I like to use one kind of bread for each variety of sandwich I’m serving, and I like to cut the sandwiches in a variety of shapes. For heartier hors d’oeuvres, consider adding chopped shrimp to the cucumber sandwiches and thin sliced smoked salmon to the egg salad sandwiches, perhaps on party rye bread. Next time I make sandwiches that will sit out for an hour or more, I will cover them with a large, dampened dinner napkin.
Those three weeks of eating out added a pound or two, so this week I’m trying to get back on my diet. I grabbed a muffaletta for lunch—hardly diet food—and felt guiltier than ever when I came home and read that no amount of deli meat is safe to consume. As penance, I needed a really healthy, light supper; so I surveyed my refrigerator and came up with this salad. I had a thin little pork chop in the freezer, which thawed and cooked quickly over high heat in a small skillet. I had all the ingredients for Antipasto Salad Base, which keeps for several weeks; and I used leftovers from Wednesday’s finger sandwiches to add to the basic lettuce, tomato and antipasto.
Antipasto Salad Base
Mix together and chill:
16-oz. can three-bean salad, drained
¼ cup chopped olives, drained
¼ cup marinated sundried tomatoes, drained
8-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts
Sorta Greek Salad
Tear salad greens into the bottom of a large, shallow salad, soup or pasta bowl. Top with a cup of antipasto base, chopped tomatoes, celery and cucumber. Sprinkle with fresh dill, salt and pepper to taste. Dress lightly with lemon juice and olive oil. Toss. Add sliced meat, fish or seafood of your choice. Sprinkle generously with goat cheese crumbles. Enjoy!
Back to the Book…
After a much-needed break from speaking engagements in February, I am looking forward to speaking about the hope and joy of Easter at two very special churches. I have known Dr. Craig Christina, a Corpus Christi native and pastor of Shiloh Terrace, all his life and am deeply honored at his invitation to speak there. I was a member of Seventh and James when I was a student at Baylor, so the opportunity to stand before a congregation filled with distinguished Baylor faculty—while intimidating—is thrilling.
April 7, 2019 – Speaking during worship services, 8:45 and 11 a.m., Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church, Mesquite Texas.
April 10, 2019 – “The Journey to Easter Joy,” 6:15 p.m., Seventh and James Baptist Church, Waco, Texas.
April 13, 2019 – “The Journey to Easter Joy,” 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., women’s luncheon, Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church, Mesquite, Texas.
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Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows was published by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, in 2018. Please visit Ella’s book page to order hardback or Kindle edition online and to read book reviews and interviews.