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A Visual Feast
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Recipes begin here.
What term best describes a hostess who lights her terrace with antique Venetian chandeliers and $10 fixtures she's spray-painted hot pink? Insouciant? Daring? Inspired? With Seattle's exuberant foodie Heather Christothoulou, you get all that and more.
When the weather turns balmy, the Christothoulou get-togethers move from inside their home--perched on a hillside overlooking Seattle's skyline--out to the expansive multi-tiered terrace spanning the rear of the house.
Perennial, rose, and herb gardens, 10 different fruit trees, and several varieties of wisteria and honeysuckle perfume the setting. An old stone fountain plays merrily in the background. It's a relaxed, easygoing backdrop for the eye-popping spring luncheon Heather has planned for close friends.
Heather inherited her eye for colorful style from her mother. "I'd come home from school, and the living room would be repainted raspberry," she says. Helping Mom as sous chef and table-setter put Heather on course to a fine arts degree from the University of Washington, a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, and careers as a pastry chef and caterer (with a reputation for cooking in cocktail dresses and heels). These days, the mother of 2-year-old Pia and 5-month-old Colette focuses her prodigious energies on entertaining at home.
To create her lushly layered table settings, Heather often finds her starting point in one simple object. For this fete, it was a collection of pink glassware. "Then I started to look for intensity. There's strength in going to the opposite side of the color wheel. That's when I found the green plates," she explains. "Vibrant color equals happiness and excitement."
In came plump green figs from the garden, out came a mouthwatering watermelon-colored table runner, and up went those hot-pink chandeliers. Raspberries filled silver bowls, and porcelain ginger jars borrowed from the living room anchored the table. "I think if people shopped in their own houses, they'd be surprised by what they find," Heather says. "Also, walking through the garden for flowers and produce can dictate the colors I use."
Heather begins to set her table two or three days before a party, giving her time to add and take away items. Her fine arts background takes over--saturated colors, contrasting textures, and unexpected table props refine the opulent look. The do-ahead scheme is part of her approach to entertaining.
"One important skill I took away from catering was organization," she says. "Whatever you can do ahead, do. I'm a fan of having as little as possible to finish after guests arrive. There's nothing worse than being caught in your apron. Give yourself time to get ready so you look composed. People sense the relaxed energy in the kitchen and the food."
Heather prefers a long, leisurely meal, so her menu usually consists of multiple courses that balance sweet, savory, and acidic flavors within each course. She emphasizes seasonal and local ingredients, and shops small purveyors. "Seattle is getting better and better at people specializing in one great thing."
While guests gather, she serves up the Pink Drink, a sophisticated blend of ruby-red grapefruit and pomegranate juices and vodka; its frosty color is inspired by the table setting. Heather passes around the vintage pink-hued glasses, and for just a moment, you can imagine her as the glamorous fashion editor in the Audrey Hepburn film Funny Face intoning, "Red is dead, blue is through, green's obscene, brown's taboo! Think pink!"
The first course is Cauliflower Soup. Just-picked chervil garnishes the ethereal pure-white soup, its delicate licorice-parsley taste a lovely foil to the humble cauliflower and onion.
Roasted-Beet Salad takes your palate down a different road, an incongruous left turn that Heather adores. Peppery arugula, tangy goat cheese, earthy roasted beets, and toasted walnuts are dressed with walnut vinaigrette sweetened with honey. It's a moment when your mouth just goes "mmmm."
Pan-seared branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) topped with artichoke hearts and morel mushrooms follows. "Spring means fresh, subtle, and light," Heather says. "The flaky texture and crispy skin of the branzino, the astringency of the artichokes, and the assertiveness of the morels are a wonderful, instinctual balance of flavor. Every element speaks to the season."
Prepare yourself for an over-the-top dessert: Lemon Poppy-Seed Layer Cake. It's a pull-out-all-the-stops affair, monumental in stature but simple to make. Lemon and buttermilk give the cake zip, toasted coconut adds crunch, and the lemon-curd filling is creamy and mouth-puckering. "It's our family's go-to spring dessert," Heather says.
The afternoon slips away. The Pink Drink is having a mellowing effect. The terrace view is commanding, the conversation settles. Heather wraps up a take-home gift, something homemade such as fig chutney or sablé cookies. You can't wait to come back, knowing that the next time will be equally delightful and totally unexpected.
Photography: John Granen and Peter Krumhardt
Produced by Linda Humphrey
Seasonal colors and a little "closet shopping" inspire hostess Heather Christothoulou's playful table settings.
Recipes begin here.
Pink glassware and the whimsical pink chandeliers were the starting point for the pink-and-green palette of this party.
"We entertain out here from April to October," Heather Christothoulou says. "Often the party will extend into the evening, so we added an outdoor fireplace for chillier weather."
White ginger jars: Great Jones Home, 206/448-9405, greatjoneshome.com.
Chairs (silver); chair-seat cushions: The Chiavari Co., 866/854-8692.
Clear chandeliers (antique, Venetian); painted chandeliers; large crystal compotes (Waterford); large crystal compote with green figs (Tiffany & Co.); fleur-de-lis decanters; small compotes; silver salt bowls with spoons (antique); charger (silver-leafed glass); dinner plate ("Rutherford Circle" by Kate Spade); salad plate; soup bowl; silver bowl with strawberries; Juliska vase; fruit dishes; wine goblets; blown-glass tumblers; bowl with plums (antique); Dupione table runner; linen tablecloth; linen napkins (antique): owner's collection.
"Fleur-de-Lis" glasses: Anthropologie, anthropologie.com.
Paint for chandeliers (watermelon): Krylon, krylon.com.
Flatware ("Mambosa"): Horchow, horchow.com.
Recipes begin here.
Seattle's downtown and iconic Space Needle create a dramatic backdrop for the parties Heather throws on the terrace.
Furniture ("Antibes"); chair-seat fabric ("Sunflower"): Restoration Hardware, 800/910-9836, restorationhardware.com.
Recipes begin here.
6 cups ruby red grapefruit juice
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup ice-cold vodka
Fresh mint sprigs
Fill large pitcher half way with ice. Add 6 cups grapefruit juice, pomegranate juice, vodka, and some fresh mint leaves. Stir to mix. Serve in chilled glasses. Garnish with mint sprig. Makes 8 servings.
Note: For nonalcoholic version, omit grapefruit juice and vodka. Replace with 7 cups raspberry lemonade. Combine as directed.
1 medium sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 head cauliflower, chopped in large pieces
2 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
2 cups water
3 tablespoons whipping cream
Kosher salt, to taste
Fresh chervil, chives, or parsley
In large saucepan, cook onion in hot oil over medium to medium-low heat 10 to 12 minutes or until tender but not brown. Add cauliflower, broth, and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft and tender. Cool slightly.
Using immersion blender, puree vegetables until very smooth. (Or place cauliflower mixture, one third at a time, in food processor or blender. Cover and process until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan.)
Stir in whipping cream. Cook and stir until heated through. Season soup to taste with kosher salt. Top each serving with fresh chervil. Makes 8 (about 3/4 cup) servings.
Cover and chill soup up to 3 days. Reheat in large saucepan over medium-low heat 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through.
1-1/2 pounds medium beets (5 to 6)
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 (5-ounce) package fresh arugula
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
Walnut Vinaigrette (see recipe)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Scrub beets and trim off stem and root ends. Peel and cut each beet into 6 wedges. Place beets and garlic cloves in 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss lightly to coat.
Cover pan with foil; roast 30 minutes. Uncover and continue roasting 20 to 30 minutes more or until beets are tender.
When garlic cloves are cool enough to handle, remove from roasting pan and peel. Place cloves on cutting board, and sprinkle with small amount of kosher salt. Using flat side of a knife, smash cloves into paste. Add to olive oil in roasting pan. Toss beets and garlic in oil to coat.
Place arugula on large serving platter. Arrange beet wedges over arugula. Sprinkle beets with goat cheese and walnuts. Drizzle with Walnut Vinaigrette. Makes 8 servings.
In screw-top jar combine 1/4 cup walnut oil, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Cover; shake well to combine. Makes 1/2 cup.
Pan-Seared Branzino with Morels and Artichokes
8 (4- to 5-ounce) fresh or frozen branzino or trout fillets, about 3/4 inch thick, with scales removed
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cups fresh morel mushrooms, rinsed and drained, or 2 ounces dried morels*
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water**
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 (8- to 9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1 cup dry white wine
Thaw fish if frozen. Diagonally score skin with sharp knife. Turn fish over Season with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Set aside.
In nonstick skillet heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add fresh or reconstituted dried morel mushrooms; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. As morels cook, gradually add 1 cup water.** Gently cook morels, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes or until soft. Remove morels with slotted spoon; set aside. Drain liquid from pan.
In same skillet, add remaining oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Heat over medium-high heat until butter is melted. Gently place half the fillets, skin side down, in hot skillet. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until skin is crisp. Turn fillets; cook 2 to 3 minutes more or until fish just flakes when tested with fork. Set aside; cover fish to keep warm. Add 1 tablespoon additional butter to skillet; cook remaining fillets as above.
When all fillets are cooked, return morels to skillet. Add artichoke hearts; heat over medium heat. Add wine; bring to boil. Reduce heat; boil gently 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat; add remaining butter. Swirl pan to incorporate butter into sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place one fillet on each plate (skin side up). Spoon portion of morels and artichokes over fish. Squeeze lemon wedges over all before serving. Makes 8 servings.
*For dried mushrooms, place in bowl. Cover with hot water; let stand 20 to 30 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold water.
**Mushroom-soaking liquid may be used in place of water in recipe. Drain reserved soaking liquid through fine mesh strainer; discard any solids. Add enough water to strained liquid to equal 1 cup.
Lemon Poppy-Seed Layer Cake
Prepare Lemon Curd filling the day before you bake the cake. Chill overnight.
Lemon Curd (see recipe)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons finely shredded lemon peel (from 3 large lemons)
4 large eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon extract
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
Coconut Buttercream Frosting (see recipe)
4 cups natural raw chip coconut (about 5 to 6 ounces), toasted*
Prepare Lemon Curd. Cover; chill at least 8 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two (9x1-1/2 inch) round baking pans. Set aside.
In very large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, and lemon peel on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon juice and lemon extract. (Mixture may look curdled.)
In another large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Fold in poppy seeds.
Divide cake batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans; cool completely. When cakes are cool, trim tops of cakes if necessary to make them flat. Split cakes in half horizontally to create four cake rounds.
To assemble, place one cake round on cake plate. Spread with 1 scant cup Lemon Curd. Top curd with another cake round and another scant cup of curd. Repeat with third cake round and the remaining curd. Top curd with last cake round.
Frost top and sides of cake with Coconut Buttercream Frosting. Sprinkle toasted coconut on top of cake and press into sides of cake. Serve immediately with fresh strawberries, or store cake in refrigerator. Let chilled cake stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving. Makes 12 to 16 servings,
In large saucepan stir together 1-1/3 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Stir in 1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel, 3/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/2 cup water. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly.
In large bowl lightly beat 7 egg yolks. Slowly stir about half of hot lemon juice mixture into eggs. Return lemon-egg mixture to saucepan. Cook, stirring continuously over medium heat until mixture comes to gentle boil. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until melted and well combined. Cover surface of curd with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Chill curd at least 8 hours or until firm. Makes a scant 3 cups lemon curd.
Coconut Butter Cream Frosting:
In large mixing bowl beat 1 cup softened butter with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Gradually beat in 2 cups powdered sugar. Beat in 3 tablespoons milk and 1 teaspoon coconut extract. Gradually beat in 4 cups additional powdered sugar until smooth, with spreading consistency. If necessary, beat in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make spreading possible. Makes about 3-1/4 cups frosting.
*To toast coconut: Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread coconut in shallow baking pan. Heat about 5 minutes or until coconut is fragrant and just barely toasted, stirring once. Cool completely.