Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Weekend Hostess...A Guide To Survival!

So here we are, finally, the first long weekend of the Summer season and the beginning of my summer job as head chef/housekeeper at the lake house. You think I'm kidding?  All of a sudden all your long lost friends and relatives remember there's a house on a lake, with full maid service, and a great chef.  All for free!  Just call and make a reservation...everyone is always welcomed...including dogs!

Whilst I love to entertain and have people over, my life now turns upside down and my weekends are my workdays.  The towels and bed sheets are the worst part, so this year I put my foot down and regulars get to make their own beds and leave the sheets in the laundry room when they leave.  Only first timers and "special" guests get the full treatment. It's called "tough love"!

The bathrooms are stocked with all kinds of goodies, including sun tan lotions and shampoo, but each guest gets ONE beach towel which they must guard with their life. The food is something else.  For this it pays to be organized and from years of entertaining at various places I have developed a method that is easy for me.  Light breakfasts, light lunches, and great dinners.


We are not big breakfast people.  Once in awhile, we will have brunch on Sundays, particularly in Fall and Winter; but when you come to a lake the main idea is to go boating or swimming and who wants to do that on a full stomach?

Breakfasts here consist of fresh fruit, orange juice, (great) coffee and English muffins or toast.  Homemade strawberry or peach preserves are a staple of the breakfast table, with cereal and granola also on hand. I usually leave a bowl of cut up cantaloupe and  blueberries or strawberries in the fridge the night before and when guests wake up they serve themselves.   Make a coffee cake in advance, freeze it and enjoy it for breakfast or tea.


Lunch is a make your own sandwich event if we are swimming around the dock;  but if we are going on the boat, everyone helps put a picnic together.  Have fresh tomatoes, olives, lettuce, bean sprouts, mayo, different mustards, you get the idea. Make it special by having artisanal breads and interesting cheeses and chutneys.  It is sometimes less expensive to roast a chicken or turkey breast, have it for dinner the night before, and slice for leftovers the next day.  Better yet, make chicken salad sandwiches.

An antipasto tray of salamis, cheese, olives, and baguette also make a nice alternative for lunch.

Make a pound cake during the week and serve it for lunch or a mid afternoon snack.


Dinner is the highlight of the day and here I usually go all out.   Ribs, Shish Kebabs, chops, casseroles, and pies are at the top of the list.  I make it easy on myself by grilling the meat, making a casserole and serving fresh vegetables...whatever looks good at the Farmer's Market. Fresh corn and tomatoes are at the top of the list when available.  For dessert I make crumbles with whatever fruit is in season or serve home made ice cream with fresh fruit. Other times I cheat and buy a pie at the nearest Fresh Market.

If you have guests arriving Friday don't plan to cook on the grill that night.  Instead make something that can be easily warmed up for those who arrive late.  My individual Mac And Cheese recipe from Harry's Bar in Venice is an old standby and a favorite of friends and family including little children.

One of the reasons everyone loves to come here is the food so I try not to disappoint by having special things that I can make ahead and freeze.  Like I mentioned before, a coffee cake goes a long way and brownies or butterscotch bars can be made ahead and served with ice cream for dessert or wrapped for a picnic.  I also prepare Beer Cheese, Pimento Cheese Spread or a  Goat Cheese Log the day before to accompany cocktails.  Chorizos that can be thrown on the grill and served with a honey mustard are always on demand!

While menus are simple,  try to buy the best ingredients you can find to make the meals special. Don't try to have three complicated menus a day.   Keep it simple, make some things ahead like appetizers and desserts and let everyone help you.  It's a long summer, and this is just the beginning!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hydrangeas...Blue or Pink?

Hydrangeas respond to the pH of the soil where they are planted, so don't be surprised if the  pink hydrangea you received on Mother's Day and lovingly planted in your garden changes color and blooms blue the following year.  Your hydrangea is simply responding to the soil pH. Blue flowers are produced in acid soil (pH 5.5 and lower), and pink flowers are produced in alkaline soil (pH 7 and higher).

You can add aluminum sulfate around your hydrangeas to acidify the soil. Add lime to make your soil more alkaline. Some selections are less affected by soil pH than others. White-flowering ones, such as ‘Lanarth White’ and ‘Madame Emile Mouillere,’ will stay white.

We must have highly acidic soil here at the lake since what I've seen around is the bluest of blue.  Yesterday I snuck out back and cut off some from my neighbor's back yard.  He's a bachelor who totally ignores his plants and has the most beautiful blooms in the street.  He won't even notice!

Top photo: Southern Living
Bottom photo: Lindaraxa

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tex-Mex Shrimp Cocktail

If you live in the South, the chances of finding a jar of hot pepper jelly in your pantry are prety good.  It doesn't matter what time of the year it will be there. 

Hot pepper jelly served over cream cheese accompanied with crakers is something I  served all the time as an hors d'oeuvre when I lived in North Carolina in the early 70's.  It was a staple of dinner parties, usually served with Triscuits of all things.  Most of the time we used green pepper jelly except for Christmas when we all switched to red or did a combination of red and green.  

That's the only use I have ever found for this addictive jelly until a couple of months ago glancing at an issue of Southern Living I came across this recipe for shrimp cocktail.  It is really a Tex Mex version of pickled shrimp and another great excuse to keep a jar in the pantry.

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings


1/4 cup hot red jalapeƱo pepper jelly

1 tablespoon lime zest

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 pound peeled, large cooked shrimp (31/40 count)

1 cup diced mango

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 small avocado, diced

Garnishes: lime slices, fresh cilantro sprigs


1. Whisk together first 3 ingredients. Pour into a large zip-top plastic freezer bag; add shrimp and next 3 ingredients, turning to coat. Seal and chill 4 hours, turning occasionally. Add avocado. Garnish, if desired.

Source and Photo: Southern Living

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Derby Party

The original post was published in Lindaraxa on April 25. 2010

As my friend and fellow blogger Reggie Darling says in his wonderful blog, there is no excuse for not reciprocating and paying back all those invitations you've had during the year.  None.  There are great opportunities to have friends over and they need not be lavish or expensive.  Derby Day is one of them. 

The time of day and season couldn't be more perfect, particularly if you have a nice garden where to host the party.  If you schedule your party for 5:00 p.m. everyone will have time to mingle before the actual race starts at around 6:30.  You must have a friend or two who enjoy running the books, i.e. placing bets on the horses! That shouldn't be too hard to organize and its always fun.  Call him beforehand (I'm sure it's a he) and ask him to help.  You will make his day!

Make it Derby Day attire, so everyone has plenty of leeway to dress up and it gives the impression that something more than casual wear is expected  i.e. no jeans or t-shirts! Just because it's a casual menu doesn't mean we don't get to dress up.

I know this is too much to hope for, but wouldn't it be nice?!

The menu is a cinch, and you can go all out and make it yourself or buy some things already made like a sliced ham from Honey Baked Ham.  I have to admit it's one of those things that you can buy that is actually delicious. A couple of casseroles, biscuits, dessert, and you are done.  It is also one of those parties that you need not seat everyone down with place cards etc.  Set some tables out with pretty tablecloths and lots of flowers and lay the plates, napkins etc right on the buffet table.  This is a casual menu, that's what makes it so easy!

 Oh yes, and make sure you have one of those big TVs somewhere in the house were everyone can gather. And don't make them wait for the food too long. Set out the buffet after the winners are announced...not the horses, your guests!  As to mint julep cups, it is perfectly acceptable nowadays to serve mint juleps in highball glasses, so don't panic.  What is not acceptable is paper cups! If you have pretty linen cocktail napkins, now is the time to use them. 

Make sure you have plenty of appetizers, particularly munchies, both outside and inside where you'll watch the race.   A couple of homemade spreads and something hot to pass around.  Go to Costco, you'll find plenty of inspiration there!  Depending on how many people you have, you can add or cut back from the suggestions below.  Keep in mind this menu is very similar to the one served at the Governor's Party in Kentucky after the race so it's quite authentic.  I have eliminated the grits and a couple of other starchy things, considering the time of day and the fact I'm not a Southerner and can't see eating grits after 5:00p.m., but if you want, be my guest!

 Here's the menu, now go out and invite your friends!

Derby Day Menu

Assorted roasted nuts
Smoked Salmon Spread
Cocktail meatballs or frankfurters


Corn Pudding*

Tossed Salad (optional)

Vanilla Ice Cream

White and red wine

*The corn pudding recipe is posted in my country blog My Kitchen by the Lake

Keep in mind this is an early party, so don't be put off  if people leave early.  Remember, this party started at 5:00 so for those of you who hate to stay up, everyone should be happily gone by nine or ten at the latest, promise!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This is the famous Margarita recipe from Rick Bayless Frontera Grill.  Fair Warning: It is strong but goes down easily!

Pair one of these with either Skirt Steak Tacos or Chicken Enchiladas and you've got yourself a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

It's important to get a good brand of silver tequila.  No skimping on this!

Makes 4 generous drinks


1 cup tequila, preferably a young silver or reposado 100% agave tequila–look for widely distributed ones like El Tesoro, Cuervo Tradicional, and Herradura, or search out the distinctive small production tequilas like Chamucos or Suave Patria

1/2 cup Cointreau or other orange liqueur

1/3 cup fresh lime juice, plus a little extra for moistening the rim of the glasses

A little sugar if necessary

About 1/3 cup coarse (Kosher) salt for crusting the rim of the glasses

About 3 cups medium ice cubes


In a small pitcher, combine the tequila, orange liqueur and lime. Taste and decide if you think the mixture needs to be a little sweeter or a little tangier (keep in mind that it will taste a little tangier once it’s been shaken). Add a bit more lime or a touch of sugar, if necessary.

Spread out the salt onto a small plate. Moisten the rim of four 6-ounce martini glasses with a little lime juice (if you have a cut lime, even an already-squeezed one, moisten the rims by running it around them). One by one, turn the glasses over and dip them lightly in the salt, creating a thin, even crust all around the rim.

Pour half of the margarita mixture into a cocktail shaker, add half of the ice cubes. Shake vigorously for about 15 seconds (this is important to achieve the perfect strength–some of the ice needs to melt into the margarita–and the right degree of frostiness). Strain into the prepared glasses, then repeat with the remaining margarita mixture. Relax and enjoy.


Servings: 1


1-1/2 oz. silver tequila

1 oz. Cointreau

1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

splash simple syrup

salt rim


Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake until cold and strain into a chilled salt-rimmed glass.

Recipe from the Cooking Channel


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