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A Spring Dinner Party

A bouquet of color sets the stage for an exuberant party

Written by Krissa Rossbund
  • Nancy Nolan

    Menu and recipes begin here.

    Sometimes the muse doesn’t have to be courted. When luxury retailer and entertaining consultant Dean Driver was asked to create a spring dinner in Dallas, a mere glance at the fanciful wallpaper in the dining room where the festivities would be held was all he needed. Those happy garden colors sparked his updated scheme for the classic room, in which he used an interplay of patterns in a fashionable palette for his table setting.

    “I’ve always loved color in everything from my decorating style to my wardrobe,” says Driver. “I don’t think there is ever a question of having too much or too little, but rather of picking the right combination of colors for the occasion.”

    A single graphic flower, modern in its off-center placement, adorns salad plates. To enhance their contemporary vibe, Driver anchored the plates with pieces in two contrasting patterns—a gold-edged yellow dinner plate with an unconventional shape and a service plate sprinkled with purple dots.

    Driver’s scheme ensures that guests—no doubt counting the days until spring’s arrival—are greeted with the season’s emblems. Miniature terra-cotta pots, painted yellow to match the dinner plates, are planted with lavender and sage. The pots, each with a guest’s name written on the rim, serve as placecards. The centerpiece takes a retro spin, with roses, allium, freesia, and tulips arranged in vintage teapots from Driver’s personal collection. 

    A salad with baby bibb lettuce and beets starts dinner, followed by a spring-inspired main course of pan-seared salmon with tomato risotto. Capping the meal is a phyllo-dough dessert tart of creamy goat cheese dotted with candied pecans and Riesling-poached cherries.

    “There’s a renewed interest in entertaining,” says Driver. “It may be more casual, but people still want to be stylish and polished.”

    Photography: Nancy Nolan

  • Nancy Nolan

    Spring Loaded

    De Gournay’s hand-painted “Chatsworth” wallpaper colorfully wraps the room (shown on previous slide) and sets the purple-and-yellow scheme for the table dressed with Bernardaud’s “Jardin Indien” salad plates, Anna Weatherley’s “Anna’s Palette” dinner plates, and “Villa Toscana” chargers by J. Siegnolles; all from Consilium. Napkins from Sferra.

  • Nancy Nolan

    A Cut Above

    Custom menu cards with a laser-cut floral design from Southern Fried Paper let the apple-green linen tablecloth peek through (fabric from Kravet). Gorham’s “English Gadroon” estate silver flatware is from Copper Lamp Fine Silver & China.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Little Teapots, Short and Styled

    It’s likely most people have pieces tucked away in their cabinets and closets that they inherited from family or bought on a whim but seldom find the opportunity to use. For a charming vintage centerpiece, Dean Driver pulled teapots from his collection and filled them with flowers.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Hello, Sparkle

    Clear stemware is elegant and highlights any wine’s hue. To introduce a pop of subtle color, try a piece such as Baccarat’s distinctive “Variations” wineglass detailed with a yellow base. The striking “Lismore Tall” goblets are from Waterford.

  • Nancy Nolan


    Guests love going home with glass spice jars filled with candied pecans (which also top the dessert).

  • Nancy Nolan

    Placecard Favors

    These unique placecards reflect the essence of spring—painted clay pots filled with herbs and embellished with the guest’s name.

  • Nancy Nolan


    Entertaining consultant Dean Driver created this Dallas dinner around the colors and emblems of spring.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Designer Dean Driver’s exuberant table setting is complemented by this colorful (and delicious) spring menu created by Dallas chef Sean Fry of TK Culinary. The menu requires some advance prep and planning so we’ve included a timeline.


    Springtime Lemon Cocktail
    Baby Bibb Wedge Salad; Boursin-Orange Vinaigrette
    Pan-Seared Salmon with Dill-Butter Sauce
    Cherry Tomato Risotto
    Braised Broccolini
    Phyllo Tart with Goat Cheese and Riesling-Poached Cherries

    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.

    Check your pantry for these necessary items before shopping.

    • Sugar (need 1-1/4 cup)
    • Light brown sugar (need 1-1/4 cups)
    • Kosher salt
    • Salt
    • Fresh pepper
    • Salad oil or vegetable oil (need 1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons)
    • Olive oil (need 1/4 cup)
    • Dijon-style mustard (need 1-1/2 teaspoons)
    • Butter (need 4 sticks)
    • Vanilla extract (need 1 tablespoon)
    • Honey

    • 2 lemons for fresh lemon juice + 1 for garnish
    • 1 orange for zest
    • 1 pint strawberries
    • 2 pounds dark sweet cherries or 24 ounces fresh-frozen pitted cherries
    • 1-1/4 pounds candy stripe or regular beets (4 beets)
    • 1 pound broccolini
    • 2 heads baby Bibb lettuce
    • 1 bunch large fresh asparagus spears
    • 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes
    • 1 large head garlic
    • 4 large shallots
    • Mint
    • Dill
    • Thyme

    • 1 quart orange juice
    • Champagne vinegar (need 1 tablespoon)
    • Balsamic vinegar (need 1 tablespoon)
    • 1 (32-ounce) container chicken stock or broth
    • 1 (17.6-ounce) box Arborio rice

    Frozen food aisle
    • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen phyllo dough

    Bakery aisle
    • 5 (10-ounce) packages pecan halves (need 6 cups) if preparing dessert and gift or 2 (10-ounce) packages for dessert only
    • Cardamom (need 1-1/2 teaspoons)
    • Stick cinnamon (need 1 stick)
    • Sweetened condensed milk (need 1 cup/8 ounces)

    Fish counter
    • 2 (6.5-ounce) cans lump crabmeat
    • 2 pounds fresh skinless salmon fillets cut into 8 equal portions

    • 1 pint whipping cream (need 3/4 cup)

    Cheese counter
    • 1 (5-1/2 ounce) package Boursin cheese with garlic and herb
    • 4 ounces Parmesan cheese
    • 20 ounces goat cheese

    • Vodka
    • Dry white wine for cooking
    • Riesling


    Menu Timeline
    Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance when cooking the main course; an extra hand can help with braising the broccolini or finishing the risotto.

    Two days before party:
    • Prepare simple syrup for cocktail
    • Make Boursin-Orange Vinaigrette
    • Make Candied Pecans; package if giving as gift, reserving 2 cups for dessert
    • Make Riesling-Poached Cherries

    One day before party:
    • Make Cherry Tomato Confit
    • Prep beets, lettuce, crab meat for salad
    • Make Dill-Butter Sauce; chill
    • Bake Tart Shells; refrigerate when cool
    • Make Goat Cheese “Buttercream”; chill

    Day of Party:
    • Prep ingredients for Sautéed Broccolini
    • Prep salmon
    • Bring buttercream to room temperature. Pipe buttercream into shells; refrigerate
    • Bring cherries to room temperature
    • Blanch asparagus for salad
    • Assemble salads without vinaigrette; refrigerate until serving
    • Blend Springtime Lemon Cocktails
    • Make Risotto up to addition of all the stock. Remove from heat; cover up to one hour. (Here’s your opportunity to get ready to greet your guests.)

    For party:
    • Gently reheat Dill-Butter Sauce; stir in dill. Keep warm
    • Drizzle salads with vinaigrette; serve
    • Cook salmon
    • While salmon cooks finish Risotto and prepare broccolini
    • Assemble desserts just before serving

  • Nancy Nolan

    Springtime Lemon Cocktail

    • 1 pint ice cubes (2 cups)
    • 6 ounces vodka (3/4 cup)
    • 4 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice (1/2 cup)
    • 4 ounces simple syrup (1/2 cup)*
    • 4 ounces water (1/2 cup)
    • 4 whole strawberries, stemmed
    • 6 mint leaves
    • Lemon slices

    Combine all ingredients in blender container. Cover; blend until smooth. Pour into martini glass or desired cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon slice. Makes 8 servings.

    *For simple syrup, in small saucepan combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Chill before using.

    This recipe was created by Terry Kranz of TK Culinary, Dallas.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Baby Bibb Wedge Salad with Boursin-Orange Vinaigrette

    • 4 candy stripe or regular beets (1-1/4 pounds)
    • 2 heads baby Bibb lettuce
    • 9 ounces lump crabmeat (drained weight from two 6.5-ounce cans)
    • 8 ounces fresh large asparagus spears

    Boursin Vinaigrette:
    • 1-1/2 cups orange juice
    • 1 (5-1/2 ounce) package semi-soft cheese (Boursin) with garlic and herb
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons chopped shallot
    • 1/3 cup salad oil
    • Kosher salt

    For Salad, cut off all but 1 inch of stems and roots of beets. Wash beets. In large saucepan cover beets with water. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered 30 minutes or until beets are tender. Drain off water; place beets into ice bath to cool. Slip skins off beets. Cut beets into quarters. Cover; chill up to 24 hours.

    Quarter baby Bibb lettuce into wedges; remove yellow core. Cover; chill up to 24 hours while preparing remaining ingredients.

    Gently pick through jumbo lump crabmeat, removing pieces of shell. Cover; chill up to 24 hours.

    Snap off and discard woody bases from asparagus. Cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Cook, covered, in small amount of boiling salted water 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain.

    For Boursin-Orange Vinaigrette, in blender combine orange juice, cheese, garlic, vinegars, and shallot. Cover; blend until combined. While blender is running, slowly add oil; blend until just combined. Season with salt.

    To serve, place lettuce wedge on salad plate. Assemble beets around wedge. Put crabmeat on and around wedge. Drizzle desired amount of vinaigrette on and around the wedge*. Garnish with asparagus. Makes 8 servings.

    *Tip: Store any remaining vinaigrette in jar with a screw-top lid. Chill up to 1 week. Shake well before using.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Pan-Seared Scottish Salmon with Dill-Butter Sauce

    Dill-Butter Sauce:
    • 1-1/2 cups dry white wine
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (3 cloves)
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
    • 1/4 cup whipping cream
    • 1/2 cup butter, cut up
    • Salt and ground black pepper
    • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill

    • 2 pounds fresh skinless salmon fillets cut into 8 equal portions
    • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • Fresh dill sprigs

    For Dill-Butter Sauce, in medium saucepan combine white wine, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, and mustard. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil, uncovered, 15 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half. Add whipping cream; simmer 7 minutes or until reduced to 3/4 cup. Reduce heat to low.

    Using a whisk, stir in butter, one piece at a time, allowing each piece to melt before adding the next. Season to taste with salt and pepper.* Stir in dill. Set aside in warm place.

    For Salmon, lightly brush salmon with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Season both sides with kosher salt. In very large skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Sear salmon on one side 5 minutes or until dark golden brown. Turn salmon over; remove skillet from heat. The salmon should flake easily after additional 5 minutes in skillet. Transfer to plates; spoon Dill-Butter sauce over. Garnish with fresh dill sprigs.

    To serve, spoon Cherry Tomato Risotto (see recipe on the following slide) onto plate. Arrange Sautéed Broccolini (see recipe here) on top of risotto. Place seared salmon over risotto and broccolini. Garnish with some of remaining tomatoes. Ladle 2 tablespoons Dill-Butter Sauce over top of dish. Garnish with fresh dill sprigs.

    *Tip: Dill-Butter Sauce can be prepared one day ahead without adding dill. Cover and chill sauce. To serve, transfer to medium saucepan. Gently reheat over medium low heat. Stir in dill.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Cherry Tomato Risotto

    Cherry Tomato Confit:
    • 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes (10 ounces)
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
    • 4 sprigs fresh thyme

    • 4 cups chicken stock or broth
    • 2 tablespoons oil reserved from Cherry Tomato Confit
    • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
    • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
    • 1/2 cup white wine
    • 1/2 cup whipping cream
    • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese|
    • Kosher salt

    For Cherry Tomato Confit, in medium saucepan combine tomatoes, oil, shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook over medium-low heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (It is very important to not let tomatoes "fry" but simply "poach" in warm oil.) Remove from heat when tomatoes begin to soften. Strain olive oil; reserve oil for risotto. Remove thyme; discard. Set aside tomato-shallot mixture.

    For Risotto, in medium saucepan, bring stock to boil; reduce heat. Simmer to keep hot while preparing risotto. In large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. When butter has melted add shallots. Cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until shallot is tender.

    Add rice. Cook and stir with wooden spoon so that grains are coated with oil and melted butter. Cook and stir 5 minutes more. Add wine and cook while stirring, until liquid is fully absorbed

    Add ladle of hot chicken stock to rice (about 1/2 cup at a time). Stir until liquid is fully absorbed. When rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock and repeat process. (Note: It is important to stir constantly, especially while hot stock gets absorbed, to prevent scorching.) Add next ladle as soon as rice is almost dry.

    Continue adding hot stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring constantly. As it cooks, rice will take on creamy consistency as it begins to release its natural starches.

    Continue adding stock, 1 ladle at a time, 20 to 25 minutes or until grains are tender but still firm to the bite, without being crunchy. If you run out of stock and risotto is still not done, finish cooking using hot water, adding water as you did the stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring while it's absorbed.*

    Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cream, and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with kosher salt. Fold in half of Cherry Tomato Confit. Serve as directed in Pan-Seared Salmon recipe. Makes 8 servings.

    *Tip: Risotto can be cooked ahead to save on last minute prep. For planning purposes, schedule 20 minutes for prep and 30 minutes cooking time. Prepare as directed adding all the stock. Remove from heat; cover up to 1 hour. Right before serving, return pan to medium heat. Stir in 1/2 cup hot water, stirring constantly to gently reheat risotto. If risotto is too thick, add additional hot water 2 tablespoons at a time. Stir in remaining butter, cheese, cream, and Cherry Tomato Confit as directed in recipe.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Braised Broccolini

    • 2 tablespoons butter, cut up
    • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (2 cloves)
    • 1 teaspoon finely snipped fresh thyme
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1 pound broccolini, trimmed and halved crosswise (trim stems, if desired)
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

    In 12-inch skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; cook and stir 30 seconds. Add broccolini and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; cook 10 to 12 minutes or until crisp tender, stirring occasionally. 

  • Nancy Nolan

    Phyllo Tart with Goat Cheese and Riesling-Poached Cherries

    You’ll have enough Cardamom Candied Pecans to garnish the desserts and send everyone home with a gift of these addictive nuts. If just preparing nuts to garnish desserts reduce pecans to 2 cups, brown sugar to 1/3 cup, cardamom to 1/2 teaspoon, salt to 1/4 teaspoon, and butter to 1/4 cup.

    Cardamom Candied Pecans:
    • 6 cups pecan halves
    • 1-1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom (more or less to taste)
    • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 3/4 cup butter, melted

    Riesling-Poached Cherries:
    • 1/2 cup Riesling white wine
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon
    • 2 pounds dark sweet cherries, pitted (24 ounces pitted cherries)

    Tart Shells:
    • 1/4 cup butter, melted
    • 1/2 of 16-ounce package frozen phyllo dough, thawed (20 9x14-inch sheets)

    Goat Cheese "Buttercream":
    • 20 ounces goat cheese
    • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
    • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel (zest)
    • Honey

    For Cardamom Candied Pecans, preheat oven to 325°F. In large bowl combine pecan halves, brown sugar, cardamom, and salt. Stir in 3/4 cup melted butter. Spread pecan mixture into roasting pan. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until sugar bubbles and pecans are golden brown, stirring twice. Remove from oven and carefully mix with rubber spatula. Transfer to piece of foil. Let cool completely. Reserve 2 cups for recipe. (Package remaining pecans as take-home gift for guests.)

    For Riesling-Poached Cherries, in medium saucepan, combine wine, sugar, and cinnamon stick. Bring to boil; reduce heat to low. Add cherries; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Cherries should be soft but not mushy. Strain cherries and cinnamon; reserving liquid. Discard cinnamon stick. Return liquid to pan. Bring to boil; reduce heat and gently boil to reduce mixture to syrup. (You should have 1/2 cup syrup). Remove from heat and cool. Once syrup has cooled, stir in cherries. Set aside.

    For Tart Shells, increase oven temperature to 350°F. Unroll phyllo dough. Brush 12 (2-1/2-inch) muffin cups with some of melted butter; set aside. Keep phyllo dough covered with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Lay one sheet of phyllo on flat work surface. Lightly brush phyllo dough with some of melted butter. Top with another phyllo sheet, brushing top with melted butter. Repeat with 8 more sheets of phyllo dough. Cut phyllo stack into 4-1/2 x 4-1/2 -inch squares. Gently press each square into prepared cup, pleating as needed to fit. Repeat with remaining sheets of phyllo. Bake 15 minutes or until cups are golden brown. Carefully transfer cups to  wire rack to cool completely. (If you do not have 12 muffin cups, bake phyllo cups in batches. Cool muffin pan between batches.)

    For Goat Cheese "Buttercream," in large mixer bowl, combine goat cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed 5 minutes or until mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in orange peel. Cover; chill until ready to use.

    To assemble, place one tart shell in center of plate. Transfer goat cheese mixture to pastry bag fitted with star tip. Pipe about 1/4 cup of goat cheese mixture into tart shell. Spoon some poached cherries over assembled tart and around plate. Garnish with candied pecans. Drizzle honey on and around  tart. Makes 12 servings.