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Lively Garden Party in Houston

A verdant Houston backyard inspires a summer table that’s equally natural

Written and produced by Krissa Rossbund
  • Nancy Nolan

    Menu and recipes begin here

    A well-tended landscape, given 20 years to mature, has the chance to become a prolific garden. Over the past two decades, Mecox Gardens, the design emporium founded by Mac Hoak, has experienced its own prolific growth, and today is shopped by industry heavyweights. Launched in Southampton and now in eight U.S. cities, the store has evolved its offerings from garden-themed antiques to an inventory that includes a chic assembly of newer curiosities.

    On the Houston patio of Mecox Gardens founder Mac Hoak and his partner, Fred Perkins, the curvy, concrete “Villandry” bench from Currey & Company seems to have sprouted from the pavers. The whitewashed “Root Tree” dining table, the contemporary “Cabo” side chairs, and the outdoor “Teak” console are all from Mecox Gardens. 

    Photography: Nancy Nolan and Peter Krumhardt

  • Nancy Nolan

    Textural Table

    Layers of natural fiber, including woven jute runners from Kuhl-Linscomb and round “Willow” wicker and “Quinta” cork placemats from Juliska, provide an earthy and textural base for Mac and Fred’s apple-green ceramic plates and hand-marbled bowls by Christopher Spitzmiller. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    Gracious Hosts

    In their verdant Houston backyard, Mac and partner Fred Perkins hosted a lively gathering to celebrate the business’s 20-year milestone.

    “We lived in New York for some time,” says Mac. “This property gave us the feel of the country among the lush greenery, but in an urban setting. We love to entertain here.”

    Mac and Fred with golden retriever Ally and rescue dog Sam. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    Verdant Green

    The table setting takes its lead from its lush surroundings. Layers of natural fibers on placemats and runners anchor bright apple-green dinnerware. Glassware in green and blue nods to the grass and the sky.

    Etched green and blue swirl glass tumblers from Kuhl-Linscomb add colorful light-refracting sparkle. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    So Succulent

    A faux-succulent napkin ring from Kuhl-Linscomb secures Juliska’s “Firenze” napkin. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    Served in Style

    Vietri’s “Aladdin” acrylic flatware fills the Juliska “Waveney” wicker caddy. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    Garden Table

    A teak console table, set against a living, vine-covered wall, hosts pots of herbs and succulents.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Lush Decor 

    A collection of succulents, usually situated in weathered pots on a nearby console table, was pulled and placed in the table’s center.

  • Nancy Nolan

    All Natural

    Cuttings from the garden are naturally presented in Juliska’s “Quinta” cork urns. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    Party Prep

    The light midday menu featured a grilled flat iron steak salad. A blackberry shrub cocktail, a waffle-and-smoked salmon starter, and butterscotch pudding filled out the menu. Jars of homemade strawberry-chile chutney were a garden-fresh take-home gift.

    Mac organizes pre-lunch bites. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    The lush garden setting Mecox Gardens owner Mac Hoak and his partner, Fred Perkins, created in their Houston home provides enviable environs for a light spring lunch. The menu celebrates the season’s offerings—chive, baby lettuces, and fresh berries. Recipes by Chef Mary Payne Moran of Hail Mary Food of Grace.


    Blackberry Shrub Cocktail

    Waffles with Chive and Smoked Salmon

    Grilled Flat Iron Steak Salad

    Butterscotch Pudding

    Strawberry-Chile Chutney

    Shopping List

    We’ve organized a shopping list to make shopping for this party menu easier for you. Package sizes are included so you have enough for duplicated recipe ingredients. The cocktail ingredients have been configured for making eight cocktails.

    Check your pantry for these necessary items before shopping.

    Note: Unless specified, when we call for “butter” we mean the unsalted variety. When we call for “olive oil” we are suggesting good quality extra virgin. When we call for “eggs” we are suggesting large eggs. When we call for “brown sugar,” we are calling for light brown sugar.

    • Granulated sugar (3-3/4 cups total)
    • Brown sugar (2 cups)
    • Flour (1-1/2 cups)
    • Baking powder (1-1/2 teaspoons; check package for expiration date)
    • Cornstarch (5 tablespoons)
    • Kosher salt (2 teaspoons total)
    • Salt (for seasoning)
    • Freshly ground pepper (for seasoning)
    • Vanilla (2-1/2 teaspoons total)
    • Eggs (6)
    • Milk (4 cups total)
    • Butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons total)
    • Olive oil (almost 3/4 cup total)
    • Red wine vinegar (1-1/4 cups total)

    Specialty grocery store

    • 1 (4-ounce) package thinly sliced smoked salmon (lox-style)


    • 5 (6-ounce) containers blackberries
    • 2 (16-ounce) containers strawberries
    • 2 to 3 large lemons (for zest)
    • 1 medium red sweet pepper
    • 3 serrano chile peppers (2 medium, 1 large)
    • 2 (5-ounce) containers baby greens (8 cups)
    • 1-1/2 to 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 4 medium)
    • 1 large shallot
    • 2 bunches fresh chive
    • 1 bunch fresh thyme


    • 1 (32-ounce) bottle sparkling water
    • 1 (2-ounce) container caviar (not lumpfish)

    Baking aisle

    • Paprika (need 2 tablespoons)
    • Ground coriander (need 1 tablespoon)
    • 2 (6-ounce) bags pecan halves (2 cups)


    • 4 (12-ounce) boneless beef chuck top blade (flat iron) steaks, cut about 1-inch thick


    • 1 (1-quart) container whipping cream (need 1 cup whipped + 1-1/4 cups)

    Cheese aisle

    • 1 (4-ounce) wedge Gorgonzola


    • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle light rum
  • Peter Krumhardt

    Blackberry Shrub Cocktail

    A “shrub” is a spiked fruit juice cocktail that dates to pre-colonial days. It has a refreshing, bright flavor that delights on a summery day. Brandy can replace the rum. Don’t let the vinegar in the homemade juice scare you—when heated, it adds tang, not sourness. Shrubs are becoming popular with mixologists because of their handcrafted and fresh ingredients. Crate & Barrel’s “Josie” glass tumblers show off this cocktail. 

    Prep: 15 minutes

    • 2 ounces Blackberry Juice (recipe below)
    • 1-1/2 ounces light rum
    • 1/2 cup ice cubes
    • 3 ounces sparkling water
    • 3 fresh blackberries

    In cocktail shaker combine Blackberry Juice and rum. Add ice cubes; cover and shake until very cold. Strain liquid into ice-filled rocks glass. Add sparkling water and fresh blackberries for garnish. Makes 1 serving.

    For Blackberry Juice, in medium saucepan combine 4 cups blackberries, 2 cups sugar, and 1 cup red wine vinegar. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 1 hour. Strain. Discard blackberries. 

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Waffles with Chive and Smoked Salmon

    Waffles topped with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and caviar start the gathering on the “Geranium” platter from Vista Alegre. Serve this appetizer prior to sitting down at the table or as a plated course of three per person. It’s a lovely pairing to a glass of Champagne or Prosecco.

    Prep: 20 minutes

    Bake: according to manufacturer's directions

    • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
    • 2-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives or green onions
    • 1 (4-ounce) package thinly sliced, smoked salmon (lox-style)
    • 1 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives or green onions, for garnish
    • 1 to 2 ounces caviar of your choice, for garnish

    In medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Whisk in egg, milk, butter, and 2-1/2 tablespoons chives.

    Use #60 scoop or portion 2 teaspoons batter to each quadrant of preheated, lightly greased waffle baker. Close lid quickly; do not open until done. Bake according to manufacturer's directions. When done, use fork to lift waffles off grids.

    To serve, top each mini-waffle with smoked salmon, whipped cream, additional chives, and caviar. Makes 8 servings (about 32+ waffles).

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Grilled Flat Iron Steak Salad

    This main course salad is a hearty and satisfying steak and potato combination but light enough fare for a summer luncheon.

    Prep: 20 minutes

    Roast: 35 minutes

    Grill: 15 minutes

    Stand: 20 minutes

    Red Pepper Dressing:

    • 1 medium red sweet pepper, roasted*
    • 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
    • 1/2 medium shallot
    • 1 medium fresh serrano chile pepper, stemmed and seeded**
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

    Roasted Potatoes:

    • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes (1-1/2 to 2 pounds), each cut into 8 wedges
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

    Steak Rub:

    • 2 tablespoons paprika
    • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
    • 1 medium fresh serrano chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped**
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme

    Grilled Flat Iron Steaks:

    • 4 (12-ounce) boneless beef chuck top blade (flat iron) steaks, cut about 1-inch thick
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 8 cups baby greens
    • 3/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

    For Red Pepper Dressing, in food processor or blender combine roasted sweet pepper, ½ cup olive oil, vinegar, shallot, 1 serrano pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and process or blend until smooth. Set aside.

    For Roasted Potatoes, preheat oven to 400°F. In shallow baking pan toss potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Roast, uncovered, 35 minutes or until tender and browned, stirring once.

    For Steak Rub, in small bowl combine paprika, coriander, 1 serrano pepper, and fresh thyme.

    For Grilled Flat Iron Steaks, season steaks with salt and pepper and rub both sides of each steak with Steak Rub. Let stand 15 minutes.

    Grill steaks on rack of covered grill directly over medium-hot heat 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare (145°F), turning once. Remove and cover with foil; let rest 5 minutes. Cut each steak into thin slices.

    To serve, toss greens with half of dressing and divide among plates. Top with potatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, and sliced steak. Pass remaining dressing. Makes 8 servings.

    *Tip: To roast red sweet pepper, preheat oven to 450°F. Halve pepper lengthwise and remove stem, seeds, and membranes. Line baking sheet with foil. Place pepper, cut sides down, on baking sheet. Roast 15 minutes or until skin is blistered and charred. Wrap in foil and let stand 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Use paring knife to remove peel from pepper halves.

    **Tip: Because hot chile peppers, such as serranos, contain volatile oils that can burn your skin and eyes, avoid direct contact with chiles as much as possible. When working with chile peppers, wear plastic or rubber gloves. If your bare hands do touch chile peppers, wash your hands well with soap and water.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Butterscotch Pudding

    “Oh gosh, pudding!” is the comment of surprised delight you’ll hear from your guests. Pudding is retro in feel, American in spirit, and wonderfully rich. The darker pudding spooned in the bottom is a trifle more caramel-like in flavor and adds a contemporary note to this nostalgic dessert.

    Prep: 35 minutes

    Chill: 3 hours to 24 hours

    Butterscotch Pudding:

    • 2 cups packed brown sugar, divided
    • 5 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 3 cups milk
    • 1-1/4 cups whipping cream, divided
    • 5 egg yolks
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla

    Candied Pecans:

    • 2 cups pecan halves
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    For Butterscotch Pudding, in large saucepan combine 1 cup of brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of cornstarch, and salt. Stir in milk and 1 cup of cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and just bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Gradually stir 1 cup of milk mixture into yolks. Add yolk mixture to milk mixture in saucepan. Bring to gentle boil; reduce heat. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Transfer to large bowl; set aside.

    In small saucepan stir together remaining 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup cream. Bring to boiling, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Stir in 1 cup of cooked pudding mixture. Transfer to medium bowl. Cover surface of both pudding mixtures with plastic wrap. Cover; chill at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

    To serve, spoon darker butterscotch pudding in bottom of each serving dish. Top each with lighter-colored butterscotch pudding. Garnish with Candied Pecans and candy crumbles. Reserve remaining Candied Pecans for another use. Makes 8 servings.

    For Candied Pecans, preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheet with foil; butter the foil. Set pan aside. Spread nuts in shallow baking pan. Bake 10 minutes, stirring once.

    Meanwhile, in large heavy skillet heat sugar over medium-high heat, shaking skillet occasionally to heat sugar evenly. Do not stir. Heat until some of sugar melts (it should look syrupy); begin to stir only when sugar is completely melted to keep from overbrowning. Stir sugar as it melts. Reduce heat to medium-low; continue to cook until all sugar is melted and golden, about 5 minutes. Add butter to melted sugar in skillet, stirring until butter melts and mixture is combined. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Add warm nuts to skillet, stirring to coat. Pour nut mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Cool completely. Break apart (some sugar will form crumbles; spoon atop pudding)

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Strawberry-Chile Chutney

    This take-home gift (or hostess gift if you’re the guest) whirs together in seconds. It has a sweet-spicy flavor to spoon over a creamy cheese such as Brie, or to pair with grilled chicken, pork, or steak.

    Prep: 15 minutes

    • 5 cups hulled and cut up fresh strawberries
    • 1-1/4 cups sugar
    • 2/3 cup chopped shallot
    • 3 tablespoons lemon zest
    • 1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh serrano chile pepper (about 1 large pepper)*
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

    Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor. Cover and pulse to lightly blend. Chill in refrigerator a few hours and serve or transfer to 4-ounce jars to give as gifts. Makes 8 servings.

    *Tip: Because hot chile peppers, such as serranos, contain volatile oils that can burn your skin and eyes, avoid direct contact with chiles as much as possible. When working with chile peppers, wear plastic or rubber gloves. If your bare hands do touch chile peppers, wash your hands well with soap and water.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

  • John Cain