How to Host A Fish Fry

We hosted our neighbors for a July 4th fish fry.  One of the smartest aspects of our outdoor kitchen is the gas burner we installed.  It’s perfect for cooking a big pot of beans, a shrimp boil or a fish fry.  And, the best part is that the odors of fish stay outdoors and don’t heat or smell up the house.

Mother taught me years ago how to fry catfish.  She’d mix up yellow cornmeal with garlic powder, salt and pepper.  I also like to use Louisiana New Orleans Style breading mix.  It’s usually right by the butcher case and I pick up a bag every time I purchase fish.  It has all the same ingredients and it’s pre-measured.

I buy large catfish pieces and cut them into thirds when I get home.  It’s easier to fry small pieces and the fish cooks more evenly.  I rinse the fish and place it in a bowl with water and ice so it gets good and cold. This makes the batter adhere and helps coax the coating to get real crispy.  Set up a “dredging” station with your fish, a long dish of the breading mix and a plate to put your cooked fish on.  And, of course a cocktail.

I prefer to fry in a cast iron skillet.  Pour in canola oil and turn your burner on medium.  Wait until you can drop in a sprinkle of water and if it sizzles, your oil is ready.

Using a fork or your fingers, take a fish piece from the bowl of iced water and dredge into the cornmeal.  Keep turning the fish over and over until it’s good and coated.   Get three pieces ready then transfer them with tongs into your skillet.  Cook 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown.  Since I was cooking for a crowd, I turned the inside oven to 200 degrees and placed cooling racks onto cookie sheets.  After each batch of fish was ready, I placed them onto the cookie sheet and kept them warm in the oven until we were ready to eat.

After the fish was done I moved onto fried shrimp.  I like to start over with fresh oil because by the time you finish cooking all the catfish, the bottom of the pan has alot of cornmeal.  I always turn the fire off and with oven mits pour the hot grease into a large empty can. It will pop and sizzle so practice extreme caution.  Just make sure no one is around and you are careful and slow with this step.  Put your skillet back onto the burner, pour fresh oil in and turn the burner back on.

This recipe for fried shrimp is from Helen Corbitt via my friend Allison Fogle.  Allison’s mother used the same recipe and she shared it with me.  I will never fry shrimp any other way.  Period.

Mom’s Fried Shrimp

2 eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 pound large shrimp (uncooked)

1 cup flour

1 1/2 tsp. garlic salt

36 saltines, smashed with the fingers

Beat the eggs and the milk.  Clean the shrimp and split down the back to butterfly.  Dip in the seasoned flour, then the egg and the milk, then in the smashed saltines.  Fry in deep fat (I use Canola) until golden brown.  It just takes a few minutes.  Serves 4.  I doubled the recipe for 10 people.

The saltine crackers create a crunching coating that is so delicious.  This could easily be a weeknight dinner it’s so easy to prepare.

I found cute “fish fry” newsprint waxed paper liners and red and white checked cardboard trays on Amazon to serve the fish on.

Everyone brought a side salad and we added hush puppies we cooked in the outdoor pizza oven.  Everything was set up buffet style and we sat on the patio at tables set with cloth linens, candles and seashells.  The warm, evening breeze was perfect as we sat around the table eating and laughing. It felt like we were on vacation at the shore.

We have the best group of neighbors and really enjoy spending time together.  It was the perfect way to celebrate not only love of our country, but love for each other.  It was a fun spin on the traditional outdoor cookout.

Have a blessed July 4th with family and friends!

The King of all Cakes

My friend Susan invited me to her house to teach me how to make her famous Mardi Gras King Cake.  I have the best life ever!

History lesson:

The Mardi Gras or Carnival season officially begins on January 6th or the “Twelfth Night,” also known to Christians as the “Epiphany.” Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means “to show.” Jesus first showed himself to the three Wise Men and to the world on this day. As a symbol of this Holy Day, a tiny plastic baby is placed inside each King Cake.

The King Cake tradition is thought to have been brought to New Orleans from France in 1870.  A King Cake is an oval-shaped bakery delicacy, crossed between a coffee cake and a French pastry that is as rich in history as it is in flavor. It’s decorated in royal colors of PURPLE which signifies “Justice,” GREEN for “Faith,” and GOLD for “Power.” These colors were chosen to resemble a jeweled crown honoring the Wise Men who visited the Christ Child on Epiphany. In the past, such things as coins, beans, pecans, or peas were also hidden in each King Cake.

Today, a tiny plastic baby is the common prize. At a party, the King Cake is sliced and served. Each person looks to see if their piece contains the “baby.” If so, then that person is named “King” for a day and bound by custom to host the next party and provide the King Cake.

Mardi Gras Day has a moveable date and may occur on any Tuesday from February 3rd to March 9th. It is always the day before Ash Wednesday, and always falls 46 days before Easter.

Susan has been making her famous King Cake since her days from college. Be sure to visit her beautiful blog for the recipe here. The recipe was passed to her by her mother’s friend, Jean. Susan’s home smelled like a bakery when my friend Jessica and I arrived. While we sipped lemon and mint infused water, Susan led us through the process of proofing the yeast and making the dough.

The dough was like velvet.  Susan described it as a brioche, different from a cinnamon roll type dough.
Easy to roll out onto a floured mat. We covered the dough with mounds of a brown sugar and butter mixture.
Then we rolled our dough up into a log like you would a cinnamon roll and shaped it into an oval.
Then with kitchen scissors, snipping small slits on the dough.
While the cakes baked in the oven, we sat down to a lovely lunch Susan prepared for us — homemade pimento cheese sandwiches and tomato basil soup — served on a place setting of beautiful blue and white china, linens and glassware.
The cakes were ready after lunch and it was time for the best part — the icing!  We poured the icing on top of our cakes, then Susan taught us how to make colored sprinkle sugar using Turbinado sugar and food coloring.
Meanwhile, as I was walking past her kitchen counter, I saw this box of fur just waiting for me to love on her!
This is Jackie, the Bengal cat, who belongs to Susan’s son Ben.  She was a love. She sleeps during the day in this box on the counter under the warmth of the counter lights.  I am sure she was glad when I left because I couldn’t resist going over and petting her every few minutes.
Susan help us package up our cakes, but not before strategically placing the baby inside each of our cakes for good luck.  She sent us home with extra icing and sprinkles just in case we needed more.
This was definitely a bucket list moment!  Have you ever made a King Cake?  As Susan says, “baking with friends is always so much sweeter!”

Just a Minute Centerpiece

I have an easy Valentine’s Day centerpiece to share.  You could do this for any occasion by changing up the colors of the flowers.

What you’ll need:

Carnations — I love Carnations and I think they get a bad rap.  They are fragrant, inexpensive and can go a long time without water which is perfect for this centerpiece project.  I bought three bunches at $3.99 each from Central Market.

Red Hots — I bought several scoops from the bulk bin at Central Market, or you could buy a large bag in the candy aisle.

Ice Cream Sugar Cones — I used nine cones which was one box.

Glass Cylinders or Vases – You can find these anywhere.  I just used ones I had in my vase stash.

I cut the carnation stems short enough to fit in the ice cream cone so the bottom petals of the carnation set just around the rim of the cone.  I put all one color in each cone.  As it worked out, I had enough to make three cones for each of the colors.  A rule of thumb, tablescapes always looks better in odd numbers — in this case three vases, three cones per vase.

I filled the bottom of each cylinder with red hots.  You don’t need to measure, just pour enough in each vase so it looks even.  Then, nestle the cones down into the vase.  That’s it!

The carnations went without water for 24 hours, and I put them into water the next day.  They are still fresh a week a later.

I styled the vases on top of cake pedestals I found last year in the dollar section of Target along with sweets we had.  My milk glass collection is always a perfect backdrop for the yummy treats from McKinley’s Bakery. The cute little chalkboard menus are from the Container Store.

These centerpieces would be so cute lined up on an ice cream sundae bar for July 4th, a baby “gender” reveal party or birthday!  If you put love into it, everything turns out amazing!

Hosting a Girl Scout Cookie and Wine Pairing Party

This is a re-post from a story I wrote March 2015.  Since, Girl Scout Cookies are on sale right now, it’s the perfect time to gather up cookies and host your own party. Did you know it’s the 100th anniversary of Girl Scout Cookie sales?  Read about the history of Girl Scout Cookie sales here.  Even if you just have a party for one, what’s better than sweets and wine!  Enjoy.

Not too long ago I saw an article on Facebook for pairing wine with Girl Scout cookies.  I looked on Pinterest and found three posts with suggested wines for each of the cookie types.  Mr. Bee and I thought it would be the perfect theme for the neighborhood parties we all take turns hosting each month.

Since Girl Scout cookies are plentiful right now, with the little scouts selling them on almost every corner, it wasn’t hard to score six varieties of cookies.  I made my list and did some research to determine the suggested type of wine for each cookie I had purchased.  Mr. Bee and I headed over to Total Wine last week after our date-night dinner and a very helpful, friendly sales associate helped us shop for each wine we needed.

Thin Mint — Michel Gassier Syrah Les Piliers at $14.99

Tagalongs — Script and Seal Merlot for $9.99

Samoa — A Port Quinta das Carvalhas for $17.99

Savannah Smiles — There were a few suggestions on this and we went with Petals Riesling for $8.99

Trefoils — A sparkling wine was suggested and I already had the perfect bubbly in my wine fridge.  A Petite Cadeau from Wine Shop at Home, an online wine club.

Do Si Dos — We tried a Zweigelt, and Austrian wine,  from Winzer Krems Blauer for $13.99

Total Wine extends 15% off when you purchase 6 or more wines at one purchase, so we saved some money.  The Port was on sale during their Spanish wine promotion.

To prep for the party I used long, white platters (from Walmart) to showcase the cookies. White platters are perfect because they draw attention to the detail and colors of your food.

We cut the front off of each box so the guests could see the full description for the cookie.  Then I took small chalkboards and wrote the name of each cookie and placed them at the top of the platters.  We used cocktail napkins and dessert plates.

We told our guests to eat dinner first and to come over around 7:30 p.m.  I asked a few neighbors to bring mixed nuts, and sliced apples and cheddar cheese to help cut the sweet between cookies.

Cindy, of course, went the extra mile to prepare the prettiest platter of five varieties of apples and labeled them for identification.

I used chalkboard place mats (similar here) to labeled each wine and the cookie it accompanied, then we put each bottle in order of when we would taste it — lightest, to medium body, then finish with the dessert wine (Port).

The Petit Cadeau from Wine Shop at Home was so light and refreshing.  It was paired with the Trefoil (a shortbread cookie).  I love sparkling wine and I will definitely purchase this variety again.

The Riesling we selected was light and was paired with the Savannah Smile — a lemon powdered sugar cookie. The price point on this was a great bargain and would make a perfect summer time wine.

The Merlot was just so-so and we felt the peanut butter in the cookie was a little overpowering.

The French Syrah was excellent with the Thin Mint.  The coolness of the cookie with the peppery taste of this wine was superb.  It was rated number one among all the guests as the best pairing. And finishing off the tasting was the Port.  We practically finished the bottle.  I am not a fan of coconut, but the pairing of this Port with the Samoa highlighted accentuated the coconut.

I didn’t get a pic of the Austrian Zweigelt variety with the Do Si Dos.  It was a brand new wine for all of us to try and it was pretty good.  It paired nicely with the peanut butter sandwich cookie.

We had fun tasting each wine.   One of our friends is a wine enthusiast and asked us to smell the wine and with our first taste to try and identify the taste notes — floral, peppery, fruity?  It was fun to come with up with our ideas then compare the crowd’s input with the description given of each wine by the winemaker.  In most cases, each label on the bottle described the wine, but if there was no description we looked it up on the Total Wine website.  All of the wines we selected with just input from the Total Wine expert were worth trying and ones we would definitely try again.

For 2017 — a new cookie to the Girl Scout menu is the S’More.  It will be fun to find a wine to accompany the cookie.  If you want to see more ideas for Girl Scout cookie wine pairing check out my Pinterest board Just a Sip.

Falling for It — Picnic Inspiration

how-to-have-the-perfect-picnic
From Hello Giggles

“Picnics:  One of the supreme pleasures of an outdoor life.” James Beard

Fall is the perfect time to enjoy the outdoors, especially if you live where the summers are hot and humid.  When I recently saw the quote about picnics from James Beard, I spent some time on Pinterest looking for inspiration and how to put a twist on the traditional picnic.

thermos-trio
Vintage Thermos and Aladdin

On a tour through my local antique mall I saw this thermal trio. Two are Thermos and one is Aladdin brand.  It made me get all nostalgic thinking how I used to take hot cocoa to high school football games.  I plan to just use these for fall decoration on the mantel, but I do think any good picnic needs a thermal carafe for hot cocoa or pumpkin spiced coffee.

Which leads me to the next picnic must, a good sandwich.  It’s all in the presentation.  So many restaurants make really good sandwiches, why reinvent the wheel?  Just pick up several, then take them home and re-wrap them yourself.  Here’s a step-by-step from Nad’s Bakery for wrapping them in parchment paper. Butcher paper would be cute, too.  I would add the extra touch of bakery twine with a sprig of rosemary.

how-to-wrap-a-sandwich-in-parchment
How to wrap your sandwich in parchment

Instead of a sandwich how about a spin on Frito pie and do a “walking taco.”

walking-tacos

Pack small, personal sized bags of Doritos and Fritos and a variety of toppings like taco meat, cheese, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, salsa, jalapeno slices, and sour cream.  Package each topping in a plastic container and keep it cold with ice packs.

lemonade
Strawberry, mint lemonade

And last, every good picnic needs lemonade.  This is a fun idea from Little Miss Party NYC.   Just purchase store bought lemonade (you cannot beat SimplyLemonade or Limeade in my opinion) and infuse it with sliced lemons, strawberries and mint.  Fill mason or milk jars and pack on ice to keep it cold.

Here’s some more fun tips from Country Living magazine on how to create the ultimate picnic experience — like using frozen grapes for ice cubes and attaching your blanket to a shower curtain to put a barrier between your blanket and the grass.  Brilliant!

country-living-picnic

Have a great fall Ya’ll!

Anthropologie Birthday Party

raspberriesI love to shop at Anthropologie.  It’s a treasure for the eyes when you walk into their store –unique gifts, home decor, clothing and bedding.  A wonderful place to just get lost in and browse, pick up a hostess gift, or an outfit for an upcoming party.  As a frequent customer you can register for perks including being invited to a birthday party!  I’m celebrating my birthday in August and since I usually start celebrating my day about 30 days prior, why not kick it off with Anthropologie.

Mr. Bee and our little Bee went with me as my guests.  We traveled to the Southlake Store.  The sales associates greeted us with party hats on and showed us to the refreshment table. This is my kind of party!

birthday sign 2

croissant 2

tarts

Fresh, warm almond croissants, fruit tarts, and mason jars filled with raspberry limonata spritzers set atop vintage linens.

spritzer

spritzer 2

And refreshing fruited water

close up spritzer

While the Bees sat on the couch napping and texting, I leisurely shopped because during the party your purchase is 15% off. I picked up a few books, a pineapple candle, and these hooks which I have plans for and will share soon…

fresh

Happy Birthday to me!

Wednesday’s Weave — Don’t Bug Me

close up bug bucket 2A fun pick-me-up idea for Wednesday…Create a bin for your guests with a few essentials to make their outdoor experience a delight!  Mosquitos are trending right now and continue to wreak havoc on outdoor fun.  To keep the focus on you and your fab party, offer a variety of mosquito repellents in a galvanized pail.  I had my friend Megan with Cleggraphy Designs make a fun tag “We don’t want to bug you” and tied it to the handle.

Other ideas to add into the pail, bottles of sunscreen, sunglasses (you know the kind you get as giveaways — perfect use for them), and battery operated personal-sized fans.

After the party, stow it away with your stash of beach towels and you’re good to go for the next time!

 

Hosting a Man-Party

Dirty DougMy husband turned 60 this week.  I didn’t want his milestone birthday to go without a fun celebration.  As an event planner, I have made such wonderful connections with professionals who have also become friends. I assembled this village and they helped me to knock it out of the park with a super fun man-party.

Looming over this party has been our never-ending pool project.  I won’t go into the long details, but needless to say even though this pool and patio renovation has been going on since February, our pool builder told us the pool would not be ready in time for the June 11 party.  Once I got over the fact that the pool wasn’t going to happen — we moved ahead with a pool side party, without the water.  Everyone reassured me the reason they were coming was to celebrate Doug.

My wonderful friend, Karen, with Applause Catering prepared a Nantucket-inspired menu full of all of Doug’s favorites.

applause catering sign

lobster rolls

 

quinoq jars tablescape

halloumi cheese

Next,square ice every party needs a good cocktail.  I hired Sourced Craft Cocktails to prepare a special menu of mixed drinks, wine, craft beers and Prosecco. They deliver all the bar ware, simple syrups, perfectly curated square ice, and premium liquors right to your door.  The mixologists kept everyone happy throughout the night — and named a special drink just for the guest of the honor — The Dirty Doug — featuring Tito’s Vodka.

cocktail menu

The hand-lettering was done by Cleggraphy Designs.  Megan water colored each of the menu cards and cocktail menu for the bar.  This added the perfect touch.

Bryan Long Flowers provided the elegant tablescape that reflected the perfect backdrop for a poolside gathering.   Tons of candles, seashells, lanterns, hanging lights, and a few florals mixed in kept it elegant, yet masculine, too.

Bryan Long peonies

shells on tablecandles and shellsflowers on bar evening time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hanging lightsWe finished with a sweet ending of Sweet Lucy’s Pies.  Lindsey makes the best pies!  All of Doug’s favorites — mini strawberry-rhubarb pies, and handheld Parker Peach fried pies.

strawberry pies

What pool party would be complete without a shot of everyone in the pool! Our party favors were “I made a SPLASH at Doug’s 60th!” floaties and beach balls.  God has really blessed us with amazing friends and it was the perfect night to recognize how special we think they are to us.

pool party

My friend Kathy said, “Leave it to Melissa to have an amazing pool party without a pool!” Take lemons and make lemonade.  Cheers!

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day Cookie Decorating Party

As a professional event planner, I get to be apart of some very fun parties. Today, I had the chance to work with Karen Wade from the Velvet Crumb Bakery.  She baked all the cookies, using her special recipe, assembled bags of icing and shared her techniques for decorating beautiful cookies just in time for Valentine’s Day – which next to Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
Our supply closet at work is full of handy props to use for many occasions.  I pulled out the 5-section acrylic tote from The Container Store.
 We put the undecorated cookies on the larger side and bags of royal icing in the smaller compartments.  We weren’t using sprinkles, but you could easily fit small jars of sprinkles in the smaller spaces as well.
When I stopped into The Container Store for inspiration for Miss Bee’s upcoming grown-up birthday lunch, I saw these adorable chalkboard placemats and knew they would be a perfect touch for the cookie party.
We used them as the base for each person’s place with their own tote and supplies.  I used a chalkboard pen, but because it’s not really chalkboard media and more like paper, I think a white paint pen would be better suited for the lettering.  It’s also permanent, and not erasable, so be sure to practice what you want to write first.
We served simple refreshments including this recipe for a Breakfast Cookie from my Pinterest cookies board.  They are perfect for a simple coffee with friends, hold up well for transport to parties, and make a great cookie to take to someone who needs funeral food.  Any good Southern gal always has an arsenal of “bereavement” recipes on hand and this is a good one. I may have to write another story on this subject…
You use 10 pieces of yummy, crispy bacon.

Chopped up like this…

They also have cornflakes, for a nice crunch, and raisins for added sweetness.  This recipe calls for 1/2 cup of raisins and I am not a raisin fan, so I substitute with either cranberries or cherries.  The contrast of salty and sweet is just right.  It has the other usual suspects in a cookie, butter, flour, sugar, etc…

One batch makes two dozen so I made two batches of these for the ladies today and there were none left, letting you know the recipe was a hit.

 Here are some fun photos of the finished cookies.  It was like looking at little jewels…no two were alike and the ladies were so proud of their work!
 
 
 The smiles and laughter today were the best Valentine’s Day gift!  I hope you share something you love to do this week.

Open Cubicle — A take on an office party

When you’re an event planner and work with other event planners, you’re always trying to come up with ways to have…an event.  So, today was our annual “open cubicle” —  our spin on an open house. 

We each prepared (or for the gals that don’t cook, bought) a fall nibble and set our dish on the credenzas outside our cubicle doors (we each have our own enclosed offices, but they don’t have doors, weird).  We started at the front of the office and had a progressive feast down the hallway.  Here’s our parade of food for the fall frolic…

 Trader Joe’s pumpkin macarons and
a cute little acorn cookies inspired from Pinterest.
 
Egg soufflé tarts from the Black Rooster Bakery

Homemade pumpkin cream cheese roll.
Cheryl rocks at this.  Notice her fall framed foliage.
She got points for her décor.


 These are the best ever.  They are breakfast cookies made with
corn flakes, chopped bacon, and raisins.  Chandra made a
batch of these when Daddy passed away.  We took them with
us for the car ride to the cemetery.  Perfect with coffee.
 Our boss is not a cook.  So she filled her vase
with faux spider web stuff and candy.
 Pumpkin dip with ginger snaps and apples.
 Trader Joe’s apple cider. Kalyn laughed
because it looked like she was serving meds in cups
at the hospital.
 My contribution…Pumpkin Greek yogurt parfaits.
I took votive cups, filled them with layers of
maple pecan granola, yogurt and whipped cream.
Garnished with a cranberry pumpkin crisp.
 
 
Here’s my set up.

 Homemade pumpkin bread…cause you can
never have enough pumpkin

Happy fall, ya’ll.  Next office party… a chili cook-off. My team’s name…”The Heat is On.”