Ladies Who Lunch

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Last year I had the awesome opportunity to cater a lunch for the lovely ladies of The Women’s Club from my Mom's condo community.  They are a fantastic group of vital women who meet for various occasions. They have a book club. They go to the theatre, take field trips and just enjoy one another’s company.  They regularly host parties and luncheons, and that's where I came in.  My Mom is in charge of organizing one summer luncheon each year.  After hearing about the one she organized last year, I asked if she wanted me to help her cater the upcoming one. My Mom is an amazing woman who is always willing to help others and give of herself. So, naturally I wanted to do something special for her and for her friends.  This particular luncheon is usually a casual one serving up typical summer fare, like sandwiches and potato salad and such. My goal was to up the ante a bit, and so I embarked in creating a menu that they might enjoy.  I sat down with my Mom and her friend, Elena, who helps her with this event.  As luck would have it I was just coming back from working a catering event in the Hamptons and had some leftovers with me.  Call it fate, kismet or just plain damn good luck that I had this nibbles for them to try. It was almost like a wedding tasting. As I pulled out dish after dish for them to taste test, we took notes, jotted down what they liked, what I could slightly change and what I could add, all taking into account the likes of their group.  It was great to have both my Mom and Elena providing valuable feedback so we could tailor the luncheon to offer up some delicious dishes. And so the menu was set, and the plan hatched. 

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Main
Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tarts
Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano with Lemon Vinaigrette
Egg Salad
Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples & Walnuts served with Romaine boats
Turkey Breast & Swiss Cheese Roll Ups
Asian Slaw with Peanut-Tahini Dressing
Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Zucchini & Roasted Tomato with a Roasted Garlic Dressing
Cucumber Salad
French Baguettes

Desserts
Peach Cobbler with Whipped Cream
Lime Zest/Raspberry Filled Cookies
Mini Cheesecakes
Watermelon

Normally they use throw away plastic tablecloths and paper dishes. It was a hard sell at first, but I convinced my Mom that using cloth tablecloths and real dishes would make it feel special. As you all know, I HAVE tablecloths. Enough, in fact, to cover the buffet table and all the seated tables.

The luncheon was held in the condo’s clubhouse, which meant we had to set the room up with tables and chairs for 30 guests. They showed me their usual set up, but in traditional Dana fashion I rejiggered the entire space. Thankfully, I had the help of my Mom, Elena and Olivia.  Especially since I decided that we would seriously need to move most of the furniture around. They were very willing and accommodating to my suggestions. Moving the seating area that was directly in front of the fireplace gave way for a perfect place to set up the main buffet table, front and center. It was August, so no need to have access to that. With this new placement, we were able to better utilize the entire space and the built-in counters next to the fireplace. Which is where I placed the plates, napkins and utensils for a better flow.

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I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

When setting up a buffet table, think about the flow. Think about how people will reach for the food items and make sure you place them accordingly. Set higher items in the back, and group foods together. Bread near the items like the Egg Salad and Chicken Salad, condiments close to the cold cuts, for example.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

Make sure you have utensils for each dish and have any condiments close by.

Asian Slaw   gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Asian Slaw gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Make your platters look pretty. Arrange the food so your guests feel that you took time and care in preparing the meal. It makes them feel special, as they should.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts     is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Israeli Couscous  , it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Israeli Couscous, it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Lime Zest Cookies   with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Lime Zest Cookies with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Mini   Cheese Cakes  . Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

Mini Cheese Cakes. Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

We used my Soothing Blues theme but gave the tables a vibrant color pop with small centerpieces using Ribbon flowers accented with white hydrangeas cut from my garden.  Simple but striking. The best part was showing Elena, who was reluctant in arranging the flowers, just how easy it is to create a floral arrangement with impact. Hesitant at first, her confidence grew once I showed her color blocking and explained that simpler is better. And with that she finished the rest beautifully. The key; do what looks good to your eye and it will look good to others.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

It was so lovely to be welcomed into their group and serve them food that they enjoyed.  Everyone seemed to have a good time and loved the food offerings.   

Ladies on the buffet line
Ladies waiting for the buffet
Chatting after a little dessert.

Chatting after a little dessert.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

There is a simple joy in sharing food. In creating an atmosphere where people feel loved by your efforts.  Remember, no matter what we do in life, whether it be the words we speak, or the food we make, the flowers we arrange, or the door we hold open, when done from a place of purity then the world is stirred with love. Thank you to my Mom, Elena and Olivia, and to Rhona and the entire Women's Club for welcoming me to your luncheon last year.  Here’s to all of you, hoping you enjoy these memories and share many more happy adventures and good eating together!

And for the rest of my readers, I hope this brings about inspiration on how and what to serve for Ladies’ Summer Lunch. Ok, Men are welcome, too! In fact, all are welcome. Stir it with LOVE!

If you are interested in my Private Chef services, please contact me directly: dana@2fishinc.com And please feel free to pass along my info. Thank YOU!

Cream Cheese Cake... I Mean Pie

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Have you ever had a dessert that was so yummy it formed a mental flavor print in your mind? So much so that when someone even mentions it your taste buds start screaming?  I have witnessed this effect whenever my mom has suggested that she make her cream cheese cake.  Which really isn't a cake at all, but a pie. Yet calling it a cheese pie just sounds weird.  Whatever the name, this dessert is like Kryptonite for some people.  Just push it near them and they begin to quiver.  Place a slice in front of them and they turn to mush.  

Over the past several decades my mom has gained legions of fans as she baked this simple, delightful dessert for a variety of different occasions.  Always being a staple on her Thanksgiving dessert menu.  So with that calorie laden holiday steaming down the highway, I wanted to share this super... and I mean super easy recipe with you.  Mind you, I have no idea where from where this recipe emerged.  I only know that she and my family have been making it for quite some time.  It's now one of those desserts that my friends ask if my mom or I will be making.  A while back, a friend who has a catering company enjoyed a slice at one of my parties.  Upon tasting it, she hired me to make this dessert among some of my other baked goods for her one of her clients. 

This 'pie' isn't that light fluffy cheese interior of a cake, but instead offers up a rich dense filling topped with a sour cream glaze.  It's creamy and velvety, and you are gonna want a second pie.  So maybe double the recipe below.  One for your guests, and keep one for yourself! 

 

So simple. It has but a few ingredients

So simple. It has but a few ingredients

Ingredients

For the pie filling:
12 oz. cream cheese
2 eggs, large
3/4 c sugar
1/2 t vanilla
9" Graham cracker crust
(Make your own or buy a pre-made version)

For the topping:
1 pint sour cream **
1 T sugar
1/2 t vanilla

**The original recipe calls for 8 oz sour cream. If you want a thin layer, then use this amount.  If you like the tangy flavor, the use 1 pint version.  It will give you a layer as thick as the layer of cheese.

 

Instructions

In a food processor, or with a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla until smooth and all combined. (Note: It helps if the cream cheese is room temperature.)

Fill the graham cracker crust with the cream cheese filling and smooth out to create an even surface. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until the center is fully cooked. Check by piercing the center with a toothpick.  If it comes out clean, the pie is done.

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While the pie is baking, combine the topping ingredients together and stir until well incorporated.

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Check your pie doneness by piercing the middle with a toothpick.  When it comes out clean, it's ready for the topping.  Photo credit: Rob Perri

Check your pie doneness by piercing the middle with a toothpick.  When it comes out clean, it's ready for the topping. Photo credit: Rob Perri

Once the pie is done, pour the topping onto the pie. Using an offset spatula or even flat butter knife, spread and smooth the sour cream topping over the entire top, completely covering the cream cheese filling.

That's a whole lotta LOVE right there by way of falling fluffy goodness.    Photo credit: Rob Perri

That's a whole lotta LOVE right there by way of falling fluffy goodness.   Photo credit: Rob Perri

Photo credit: Rob Perri

Photo credit: Rob Perri

Photo credit: Rob Perri

Photo credit: Rob Perri

Then place the pie back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes, just until the topping sets.  Remove and let cool.

This pie has crunch, tart, sweet and tang.  How many dessert can deliver on all that? Even though I've shown a lot of photos, this pie is but a few easy steps. Mix, fill, bake. Top, bake, eat! 
So, if you are hosting, adding this dessert to your menu will not add stress in the least.  (And it can be made well in advance.)  And If you are a guest, volunteer to bring dessert.  You will definitely be invited back and requested to bring this decadent cheese cake again.  I mean pie!

Happy Sweet Tooth.

Since I used a store bought pie shell in a tin I felt the final presentation needed a little fancy schmancy.  Using some parsley greens and tangerines tucked around a cake stand upped the 'pretty factor', giving it that holiday theme color pop. Please don't stress out thinking you need to fancy up this dessert. If it's not your thing, just slice it up.  That said, go ahead and try copying my idea and build your confidence with styling. There's nothing wrong with imitation.  Or find your own way to stylize your final presentation.

Since I used a store bought pie shell in a tin I felt the final presentation needed a little fancy schmancy.  Using some parsley greens and tangerines tucked around a cake stand upped the 'pretty factor', giving it that holiday theme color pop. Please don't stress out thinking you need to fancy up this dessert. If it's not your thing, just slice it up.  That said, go ahead and try copying my idea and build your confidence with styling. There's nothing wrong with imitation.  Or find your own way to stylize your final presentation.