By Vera Stewart | Photo by Amy J. Owen
There are two perfect windows of opportunity in Augusta to entertain outdoors: Late spring after the pollen has subsided, and late fall when the temperatures begin to dip. The expansion of our entertaining spaces to the backyard has prompted a new love for our porches, patios and outdoor kitchens and has opened up square footage to engage more guests than you would normally accommodate. Spring is the perfect outdoor palette with azaleas, dogwood, snowballs and Bankshire rose in full bloom and a world of bedding plants that are in their early stages of development.
With help locally from our friends at Ranco Tents and Events, we were quickly prepared with round tables and comfortable seating and feminine table coverings to create a space for our Mother’s Day luncheon. As a veteran of the catering business, let me share a few of my tips for being prepared the day of for the perfect celebration.
Christine and Frank Anderson’s home on Cummings Road was the perfect setting for this event. The beautiful terraced courtyard, fountain and snowball trees in full bloom were magical. Having the rental company deliver everything the day before (or picking it up yourself if you have a truck) will allow you to get the heavy work of setting up done early in the morning. If you fear unwanted insect guests, have your exterminator do an eco-mosquito treatment prior to that day.
Appetizer Course: Vidalia Onion Galette
*This can be made a day or two in advance and then heated. Served on a dinner plate to allow space for drizzling the plate with balsamic glaze.
Salad Course: Grapefruit Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette
*Section the grapefruit the day before, and you can make the dressing days or even a week or more in advance. It has a three-week shelf life, so enjoy the leftovers. Serve a small portion on a salad plate or choose to make smaller galettes or tarts and a larger salad.
Entrée Course: Salmon Cakes with Remoulade Sauce
Dessert Course: Mini Pavlova with fresh berries and whipped cream
Served on either a dinner plate or salad plate depending on the size of the pavlova.
Selecting a tablecloth that will announce your theme is fun, but you can accomplish that with creativity on a solid color, too. For a small group – we had 12 – don’t be afraid to take the good china outside. Since this is for Mother’s Day, I used my mother’s Heath and Rose by Spode, which prompted the choice of the English Garden tablecloth. Add in bamboo-handled flatware on loan from my friend DeeDee Perry, Tortoise wine glasses from Ballard Designs and the “icing on the cake,” the exquisite place cards by Maggie Haritha,
@glennavenuecalligraphy. The walnut ink was fabulous. We set everything up with the exception of the place cards and flowers and covered the tables with old twin bed sheets until an hour before the guests arrived.
I love these square birch vases, and thankfully between my yard, Christine’s yard and the floral department at The Fresh Market, I was able to put together something appropriate for this setting. I made the arrangement the day before, and since I no longer have a walk-in cooler, I filled the vases with ice and then water to keep them cold overnight and then repeated the day of the event. Remember height when making centerpieces for a seating table so that guests can look over easily.
Take these ideas and run with it for anything you have in mind for spring/summer entertaining.
Vidalia Onion Galette
Makes 3 (4-inch) galettes
Courtesy Carrie Morey, Callie’s Biscuits and Southern Traditions: Heirloom Recipes from Our Family Kitchen
1 recipe Mama’s Butter Piecrust (recipe below)
4 tablespoons butter
3 pounds Vidalia onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Optional: 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
Optional: 4 slices bacon, cooked, drained, and chopped
Mama’s Butter Piecrust
2 1/4 cups flour or 2 cups AP flour
1/3 teaspoon. kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut in small cubes
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water
Mama’s Butter Piecrust
- Mix the flour and the salt. Add the butter and work into the flour with your fingertips just like making biscuits until the mixture has the consistency of grated Parmesan cheese. Mix in the cold water by the tablespoon with your fingers until the dough holds together in a rough ball.
- Flour a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper. Dump out the dough onto the paper. Flour the top of the dough and cover with another sheet of paper. Place the whole dough “sandwich” on a baking sheet. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
- Remove from fridge and leave out for 30 minutes, keeping the dough sandwiched in the paper.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Roll out the dough to 3 (4-inch) circles. Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet on low heat. Add the onions and stir to coat with the butter. After 5 minutes, add the garlic. Continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally. In 20 minutes, the onions will soften and shrink in the pan. In 30 to 40 minutes, they will be golden brown.
- Season with salt to taste and the pepper. Stir in the mustard and the thyme, if using.
- Sprinkle the crusts with 1/3 cup of the Parmesan. Divide the onions between the crusts and pile in the center, then spread to within 2 inches of the edge. Fold the dough up to and over the onions, pleating it as necessary. Brush the crust with the egg.
- Place in the oven. Check after 10-15 minutes. When the crust begins to color, sprinkle the top with the remaining 2/3 cup Parmesan and the bacon, if using. Bake 10-15 minutes more. Put the oven rack in the top position. Turn on the broiler and broil 3-5 minutes, until deeply brown. Watch carefully, as ovens vary in broiling intensity.
Grapefruit Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette
1 c chili sauce
1 c vegetable oil
1 c cider vinegar
1 c sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon. pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 small white onion, grated
2 ruby red grapefruits, supremed
1 medium red onion, sliced
2 medium Hass avocados, sliced
- Mix the vinaigrette ingredients together well.
- Assemble the salad with spring mix, grapefruit slices, onion slices, avocados, and tomato vinaigrette.
- Store vinaigrette in a jar in refrigerator for weeks.
Salmon Cakes with Remoulade
Makes 10-12 salmon cakes
1 pound fresh salmon filet
3 tablespoons Unsalted butter divided
1 Medium yellow onion finely diced
1/2 Red bell pepper seeded and diced
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 Large eggs lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Garlic minced
3 tablespoons Olive oil (divided)
1/4 cups Parsley finely minced
3 tablespoons Hellman’s mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon Black pepper
1/4 Onion grated
1/2 cup Ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons Prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 cup Sweet relish
2 tablespoons Hot sauce
1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
Salt & Pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Place salmon in center, skin side down, drizzle with olive oil and season with kosher salt and pepper. Bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes (depending on thickness), or just until cooked through. Remove from oven, cover with foil and rest 10 minutes.
- Flake salmon with two forks discarding skin and any bones. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
- Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add onion and bell pepper and sauté until golden and softened (7-9 minutes). Remove from heat.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flaked salmon, sautéed pepper and onion, bread crumbs, eggs, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, black pepper, parsley, hot sauce and Old Bay. Stir to combine. Form cakes using 2 ½ tablespoon scoop. Mold into 2” wide by ½” thick cakes.
- In a clean non-stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter until hot, then add salmon cakes in a single layer. Sauté 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown and cooked through. If salmon patties brown too fast, reduce heat. Remove finished cakes to a paper towel lined plate and repeat with remaining oil, butter and salmon cakes.
- Serve cakes with remoulade.
- Mix all ingredients until well incorporated.
Mini Pavlova with Fruit
6 egg whites use the yolks to make ice cream!
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 cups your choice of fruit
2 cups homemade whipped cream
Mint leaves, optional
- Preheat oven to 250°F.
- With an electric mixer set to medium, whisk together the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt for 3 minutes. Let the mixer keep running and add in the 1 ¼ cups sugar, a spoonful at a time. Once the meringue is thick and can form stiff peaks you’re done (about 6 minutes total)!
- Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon on big dollops of meringue and press the centers to form little bowls (to hold the jam later). Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Halfway through baking be sure to rotate the pan(s) so that they bake evenly. Allow to cool completely when finished.
- While pavlovas bake, mix your fruit with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar to draw out the natural juices.
- Once pavlovas are cooled completely, top with whipped cream in center, then spoon fruit on top. Garnish with a mint leaf if desired.
Appears in the May/June 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.