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!

Lime Zest Cookies with Raspberry Filling

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For years I have been making these Lime Zest cookies. It actually all started years ago when my dear friend Donna asked me to make cookies for her wedding as part of the guest gift bag. What an honor. When you think of weddings, you think of white. Well, at least I do. So I naturally wanted the cookies to have a white motif, and from all the ones that I had chosen I needed one more cookie that would deliver on that theme. I found this Lime Meltaway recipe from Martha Stewart which dusts the cookies with confectioner's sugar, thus making them white. 

Although the original recipe is not mine, I made it my own but adding a twist. The first few times I baked them I followed the recipe as is, including for the wedding. But when I needed to make a cookie for an event, this single wafer didn't seem like it would be enough. What is better than one cookie?  As my darling nephew John stated as a small tot when given one cookie, and asked 'What do you say?' (his mom hoping for Thank you) he shouted out: Two Tookies!  Exactly; two are much better than one. And even better when sandwiched together with the perfect tart compliment to lime of raspberry jam. From that moment on I have been making these cookies with my jammy, tart and sweet stamp. From that moment on, these cookies became a hit.   

Ingredients

1.5 sticks butter, room temp
1 c confectioner’s sugar (1/3 for dough & 2/3 for dusting)
Zest of 2 limes
2 T lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 T vanilla
1 3/4 c + 2 T flour
2 T cornstarch
1/4 t salt
 1 (18oz.) jar of red raspberry preserves  (seeds removed)

Instructions

1.    Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, mix butter and 1/3 c sugar until pale and fluffy.
2.   Add lime zest, juice and vanilla until combined.
3.   Whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt in a bowl and add to the butter mixture on low speed until all combined.
4.   Divide the dough into 2-3 smaller mounds and roll into 1 1/4" thick logs. Wrap in tin foil and freezer until hardened. Approx. 1/2 hour.
5.   Using a sieve, push the jam through to remove all the seeds. Then place jam in a pastry bag or plastic bag with the tip cut off and set aside until ready to fill the cookies. (Cut tip off right before filling.)
6.   Remove the logs from the freezer and cut 1/8" thick rounds placing them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
7.    In a 350 degree oven, bake for 9-12 minutes until they are barely golden.  You may need to rotate the baking sheet half way through. These are thin, delicate cookies and you want them to be tender not overdone.
8.   Remove from baking sheet and let cool on a rack.  I cut up paper bags and spread them on my dining room table. The clean up is easier after the sugar dusting. 
9.   I line the cookies in rows of pairs turning one cookie over to reveal the baked side. Then using the piping bag, dollop about 1/2 T of jam onto the turned over cookie.  Repeat on half the cookies, then top them with their pairs. I usually push all the cookies close together at this point to ready them for the sugar dusting.
10.  Using a same strainer, sprinkle the remaining 2/3 c of confectioner's sugar over all the cookies. Let the sugar set before storing them away. 

You won't need this many limes unless you are baking for an army. I make 6x the recipe during the holidays to give to my family and friends.  Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

You won't need this many limes unless you are baking for an army. I make 6x the recipe during the holidays to give to my family and friends. Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

Creaming the butter with the confectioner's sugar makes it light and fluffy. Remember, this photo shows me making many batches.

Creaming the butter with the confectioner's sugar makes it light and fluffy. Remember, this photo shows me making many batches.

When you add the lime juice and zest the butter seems to break, but do not worry. It all comes together with the dry ingredients.  Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

When you add the lime juice and zest the butter seems to break, but do not worry. It all comes together with the dry ingredients. Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

A moment of zen.  Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

A moment of zen. Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

There are several key pointers that I want to share about making these cookies.

  • Roll the dough into logs ensuring that there are no air pockets in the middle. (The first time I made and cut these I noticed that the lime juice creates air pockets and each cookie had a tiny hole in the middle. To avoid that, just roll and push the dough together and roll again into the log.

  • Roll the logs evenly and equal size.

  • Freeze the dough log so you get a clean cut without squashing the log. Use a sharp knife.

  • Remove the cookies carefully from the baking sheet. They are very delicate when they first come out.

  • Try to match up your cookies so each sandwich consists of two equally sizes cookies. (I know this may sound like the words of a crazy, controlling person but if you don't want jam oozing out because one cookie is bigger than the other, then hear me out. I have a method that ensures the cookies are good matches. When I place them on the sheet to be baked I place them in exact order that I cut them so each slice is next to the one before it. Then when I remove them, I do the same. This way similarly sized cookies will be together making it easier to match up when you sandwich. I know this sounds nuts and might not be an issue for you, but when you are selling your cookies or presenting them at an event perfection is expected. Heck, when you are serving them to guests they should look pretty, too.)

Freezing the dough makes cutting so much easier. I eye ball the width trying to ensure each cookie is the same size, about 1/8".   Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

Freezing the dough makes cutting so much easier. I eye ball the width trying to ensure each cookie is the same size, about 1/8".
Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

Use parchment paper and give them a little space between. They don't grow that much. I usually get 5 across on a half sheet pan.   Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

Use parchment paper and give them a little space between. They don't grow that much. I usually get 5 across on a half sheet pan.
Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

These are delicate cookies when they come out of the oven. When removing them from the pan, be gentle when placing them to cool.  Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

These are delicate cookies when they come out of the oven. When removing them from the pan, be gentle when placing them to cool. Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

I always try to find the most efficient way to accomplish a task. Putting the jam in a piping bag or a plastic bag makes it easier to dollop onto each cookie.   Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

I always try to find the most efficient way to accomplish a task. Putting the jam in a piping bag or a plastic bag makes it easier to dollop onto each cookie.
Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

After they are lined up, turn one row over so you are filling the baked side with jam. Then the outside of the cookie looks nice when sandwiched together.   Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

After they are lined up, turn one row over so you are filling the baked side with jam. Then the outside of the cookie looks nice when sandwiched together.
Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

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Jam it up and sandwich it up.  Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

Jam it up and sandwich it up. Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

Like snow, let the sweetness fall and cover with a good dusting.  Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

Like snow, let the sweetness fall and cover with a good dusting. Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com
And just like that they begin to disappear.  Photo credit:    asithappens.format.com

And just like that they begin to disappear. Photo credit: asithappens.format.com

I always get a thrill out of watching the faces of people when they try these cookies for the first time.  They can't quite make out that the zingy flavor is lime, because who would expect that in a cookie.  Then they smile with tartness of the raspberry jam finished with the sweetness from the powdered sugar dusting.  It's a perfect combo.

As you can see these cookies have that snowflake feeling. White and delicate, they were perfect for Donna and Jeff's wedding. Thank you Donna for asking me to be a part of your joyous celebration, and thus finding another cookie tradition that everyone loves.

Me, Donna & JC at her wedding. Doesn't she look happy & beautiful! And not because of the cookies.

Me, Donna & JC at her wedding. Doesn't she look happy & beautiful! And not because of the cookies.


I usually make them as part of my Christmas cookie offering but recently these have been requested for two different catering events.  They were, and are universally loved.  I hope you give them a try whether it be for your own sweet tooth need with tea, or to share with your guests.

My Christmas cookie box.

My Christmas cookie box.

As part of a catering event's mid afternoon dessert offering in the Hamptons.

As part of a catering event's mid afternoon dessert offering in the Hamptons.

At a luncheon for my Mother's Ladies Group

At a luncheon for my Mother's Ladies Group