I’m reminded of the comments like “get back in the saddle”…”it’s like riding a bike”…or “pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again.” It’s been a long time since I did a party for more than eight people. It’s been an even longer time…like 20 years since I actually catered an event away from my kitchen. I opened Bon Appétit Catering in 1984 in Jackson, MS. It was instantly successful for my ability to make delicious food and present it with tantalizing aesthetic. I worked alongside Carol Puckett in Jackson’s first gourmet kitchen store and cooking school when she introduced the Southeast to Martha Stewart. I also worked with Billye Taylor to establish Taylor Maid, Jackson’s first gourmet grocery and prepared food market. It took less than a year for me to realize all the elements of catering was akin to a marriage. I was either shopping, cooking, presenting or cleaning…every single minute of every single hour of every single day. It was either get married to my work or get out. I chose to return to my passion…music…and only cook for those I love. It was thirty-seven years later when a call from someone I’ve loved as long as she’s lived caused me to dip my toe back into the catering world.
Nan texted in late January to “enlist and hire my services to do food”. We talked about a guests list of 30 but expected around 20.
Fast forward to:
Nan-April 9~8:19 AM…”I just counted 22 I know are planning to come.”
Nan-April 11~10:32 AM…”Update: we’re up to 34 people. Got lots of rsvps yesterday and today.”
Me-“Just thinking maybe I should call Bob Strange for a Fish Fry”😻
Nan-Tuesday, April 12~9:44 AM…”We got 38, so round up to 40.”
Me (standing at a sink full of vegetables)-Friday, April 15~Noonish…”What was I thinking”🤪
Me to Self-Friday, April 15~4:30…(Everything prepped, labeled, organized and ready for delivery) “I guess you’ve still got it”🙄🤣
The event began Saturday at 4:00 PM. I’m pretty sure it was around 4:15 when Nan walked into the kitchen with a friend ready to put me to work in Oxford. Jesus Take the Wheel!!!
“Past” Hors d’oeuvres
I had planned to have Ansley and Mazie, our Junior Hostesses pass bite sized “finger foods”. I mean, what’s a “nice party” without “finger foods”. However, when the guests list grew I thought it best to transition to “Past” Hors d’oeuvres as in…help yourself as you walk past.
A hostess came to the kitchen and announced the guests wouldn’t find the stuffed tomatoes “behind that chair”. Hear me and hear me clearly…when a party is given in Mississippi and a silver tray of Campari Tomatoes stuffed with Roasted Chicken Salad is presented on a skirted table…people take on the traits of a bird dog. I wasn’t worried one bit about guests finding the Stuffed Tomatoes. I’ll admit there were few left but as Brandt boldly stated…”the party would’ve still been great with half the amount of food”. Sorry, Brandt. Mom’s philosophy will win every time…I will always “hope I have something you can eat”.
The Signature Pimento Cheese with Country Ham on Sweet Potato Biscuit is truly a meal to itself. Ina says, “Store-bought is fine”. TimMagic agrees BUT….it just depends on what store. Hear me again…Brandt and I did a Hampton’s tour visiting all of “Ina’s Stores”…they are not The Piggly Wiggly or K-Roger. Carrington Wise brings delectable baked goods to the Memphis Farmer’s Market every Saturday. It’s a block from our South Main loft. I wouldn’t be very smart if I tried to make biscuits when Carrington has them ready and waiting. The Pimento Cheese is my Signature Pimento Cheese.
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
- ½-1 cup mayonnaise (more or less depending texture preference)
- 3 tablespoons Major Grey Chutney (Tim Magic)
- 7 ounces chopped pimentos, drained
- Mix until all ingredients are throughly combined
- Chill until ready to serve
The third item is inspired by two recipes. Our dear friend Delia does a Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip which I love. The first time she made it I raved about it and she generously told me she would be happy to share the recipe. I kindly responded to just call me when she made some more. My trite response allowed for her to never invite us back or to be Forever Friends…I sure am glad she chose the later. She actually did share the recipe for this gathering but crab wasn’t on our menu. I substituted a mix of button and baby bella mushrooms. The flavor combo took me back to a Martha Stewart recipe which was a staple of my Bon Appetite Catering days. The crunch of the phyllo shell and the umami of the veggies, jalapeno and green chili peppers, parmesan and mayo…yes, of course mayo made for a scrumptious bite.
A number of years ago I attended an event and was totally blown away by something seemingly simple and as our dear friend Shirlee often said “a taste like…more”. Chicken wrapped in bacon is a no brainer. Yet, when it’s dredged in brown sugar and drizzled with sriracha and broiled for 25 minutes…stand back. The caterer at the party I attended had much more patience than I. Her’s were bite-sized…just a little larger than popcorn and I ate it like popcorn. I chose a two bite size and it was still a labor of love getting fatty applewood smoked bacon wrapped around a piece of slippery chicken. Did I mention I did this because I love my cousin. Then, for a bit of whimsy I found skewers with gold horseshoes on them in hopes of bringing the couple prosperity and all the good luck in the world. A fresh pineapple anchors the tray as the universal symbol of hospitality and the logo of Bon Appétit Catering.
Fruit and Cheese
I understand I may be seen as a food snob but way too many American’s are happy with beautiful things which have been bastardized. I know it’s convenient but a plastic tray of random out-of-season fruit and factory cubed cheese doesn’t let your guests know how much you care about them. Mom would’ve never taken it to a bereaved family or a covered dish supper at First Freewill. I can’t tell you how much time and money Rita Faye Mashburn(a second Mom) put into creating stunning centerpieces with carved fruit bowls and fruit skewers projecting from fresh pineapples. She did the first one for her daughter’s wedding. Then, I think she did one for every wedding in Rankin County for the next 10 years. And, don’t get me started on Charcuterie. When you’re bored take some time to educate yourself of Charcuterie. Then Google Charcuterie Board. How did the fine art of French prepared meats, terrines and confit turn into American Grazing Boards and Tables. We did present “fruit and cheese” but it was not on a plastic tray and the crackers were not strewn on the bare table.
Brie…A ripe triple cream brie oozed on a pressed glass platter handed down to me from Nan’s mother Rubye’s collection of treasures. Japanese White and Colossal California Strawberries as well as toasted pecans accompanied the Brie. Balsamic glaze and cracked tellicherry pepper finished the platter.
Saint Andre…Another triple cream cow’s milk, yet Saint Andre is not quite as ripe and held shape to create two pyramids on another piece of pressed glass…also passed down but we aren’t sure of its provenance. Huge, small seeded, very sweet blackberries and juicy blueberries accompanied the delicate, buttery yet bloomy texture as well as a gentle swath of Bonnie’s Bourbon Berry Jam.
Cambozola…A friend in New York City had us over for wine and cheese and introduced us to Cambozola…a Camembert, another French cow’s milk cheese but it’s injected with gorgonzola enzyme’s. The texture is more stable than brie and it definitely has deeper, more earthy tones in the finish. I love it…especially with fresh figs, walnuts and raw, unfiltered honey. It seems a few of those huge blackberries hopped over to visit the cambozola, as well.
Flat breads stood proudly in yet another family heirloom. This time it was a tortoise wine glass which brought the exquisite taste of Aunt Wanda to the table. Nan and I could write a book just about the serving pieces and linens we used. All the details let your guests know you care about their Soiré experience.
Resting shyly on the back corner of the table was a creation I concocted for our sweet friend Nola’s Sixtieth. Think about what traditionally comes on a plate when you order Lox and Bagel. This is literally “everything but the bagel”. A layer of fresh made cremé fraîche mixed with cream cheese smoothly painted atop a McCarty platter (Nan has so much McCarty it has a special addendum in her will). A mound of finely chopped smoked salmon, A ring of chopped, boiled Edwards Farm eggs. And, a sprinkling of capers and chopped red onion. Bagel chips on the side gave the guests a multi-faceted bite many of them had never experienced. As Martha would say, “it’s a good thing!!!”
So, here’s a True Confession. I love Martha Stewart’s Asparagus Gruyere Tart. It’s actually quick, easy and really delicious. Somehow I managed to grab phyllo out of the grocer’s freezer instead of puff pastry. I realized it Friday night and could’ve returned to the store but I told myself I could make it work. Thus, this became my first experience with phyllo…EVER!!!
It actually WAS easy…but quick…not so much!!! A 27″ full sheet pan took two full rolls of phyllo…just think, each sheet is the thickness of a sheet of newspaper and two rolls stacked together is the thickness of today’s New York Times. Put down one sheet and brush it with melted butter….and repeat, repeat, repeat, etc.!!! They weren’t easy to portion but their organic look rested nicely on a white glazed plateau from my personal tabletop collection.. And yes, they received rave reviews. With a cup of butter and the crispness of the phyllo they were quiet tasty. An aunt of the Groom-to-be was literally in the doorway walking out, turned around, walked to the table, picked up a piece of the tart, stood there and ate it and talked about how she’s diabetic and shouldn’t be eating it….love you Beverly!!!
I will say the puff pastry creates a bit of a frame which holds the asparagus in place better. I bet I could’ve created a frame with the buttered phyllo but that will have to be a trick for next time. Nan informed me we’ll need to do two more of these events. 👀
I won’t repeat my diatribe but to repeat nothing looks good on a plastic tray. Grocery stores have ruined the chance of crudite ever being taken serious. Crudite is a legit culinary offering in many countries. Often offered as an amuse bouche, I’ve enjoyed the chefs selection in England, France, Italy and Thailand…always composed and accompanied with subtle condiments. Well…just a mini-diatribe…I practiced my reserve.
Nan honored her guests by using her Mother’s circle cut work, embroidered and crocheted table cloth which I brought Rubye from my time designing in Southeast Asia. In keeping with the mostly Spring White theme (even though it was the day before Easter) I used Alex Marshall pottery from my collection of treasures. From her Corning, CA studio she does a collection of hand form bowls ranging from 4 to 18 inches. I also love her vases and lamps.
It’s Spring so the market is abundant with fresh vegetables. Heirloom carrots of purple, yellow, white and orange played nicely with baby heirloom tomatoes and Yum Yum mini bell peppers. Of course, there had to be a bowl of Easter Egg Radishes. Then, the focal was a range of my signature color featuring haricot vert, celery, asparagus, sugar peas and endive. My sweet friend Joannie Franklin who now resides in Brentwood, TN provided me with a vintage recipe loved by many in “her ole Kentucky home”. We had Liberty Cash and Big Star in Booneville. Tupelo had Turner’s Big Star but in Nortonville, KY…they had Lovan’s IGA. YES, of course it’s a mayonnaise base but it has mozzarella AND a couple tablespoons of parmesan. It has some unusual…well, maybe not so unusual but ingredients I wouldn’t think about and always forget until I break down and get the recipe. This time I had to call Joannie because I searched high and low having misplaced my copy. I knew I could do it from memory but for those ingredients which elude me…dried parsley and sugar. I’ll admit I use fresh parsley and Mom always said if it calls for salt; add a bit of sugar and vice versa.
A little extra…which seemed to cause a stir. I was asked to replenish a half hour in and unfortunately had put all out at once. Carrington is known for her nibbles…Cheese Wafers and Blue Cheese Fig Bites. And once again, Forever Friend Delia Parman introduced us to Sweet Sangria Olives…I call them Delia Delicious!!!
…and let them eat Cake!
It’s such a joy to live to the age where one gets to see an extremely talented musician friends’ child grow into an equally talented Baker. I have such wonderful memories of studying music with Judy Key Irvin at Northeast Junior College. Now, Judy’s gifted daughter, Ashley helps us create memories by designing a lovely Spring cake…strawberry with dark chocolate filling and a buttercream frosting scattered with hand painted roses in the Bride-to-be’s colors. The combination of flavors, soft yet sturdy sponge with the perfect crumb and velvety buttercream made for a delectable masterpiece. Again, McCarty bunnies take their rightful place as the entry focal point grazing beneath the fresh floral designs created by sister and brother duo Rose Green Parker and Tommy Green.
Nola says cooking is my love language. I can’t argue. I really don’t want to go to the effort for anyone I don’t care about. Julie Long Cothran is Corbin’s Mom and Nan’s Forever Friend. It was wonderful to help celebrate Her Son and His Fiance.
Here’s hoping Jenna Claire and Corbin find their house beautiful and a good time is had by all🍍