Forget the rules. Designer Michelle Nussbaumer believes the people create a memorable get-together.

By Krissa Rossbund
May 07, 2021
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Dallas-based interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer indulges her wanderlust, exploring the world to bring its inspiration, its colors, and its treasures home.

For a summer gathering with friends, Michelle relied on the bohemian flair that for years has tantalized her fans with mismatched patterns and bountiful colors. Her style rebels against formal entertaining perfection with all of the proper appointments to satisfy etiquette's guidelines. Rather, it results in a visual feast that rivals the decadent food to come.

breakfast nook green aviary pattern wallpaper
A plaster faux bois lantern that Michelle designed descends over the table.
| Credit: Julie Soefer

"Formal entertaining has its place," Michelle says. "But I like to keep things casual, relaxed, and relatively easy for myself as the hostess. If I'm not at ease, my guests won't be either. I dismiss the rules and provide a laid-back attitude for everything." Instead of assigning guests to her formal dining room, Michelle arranged a few place settings on the table in her newly decorated breakfast room and put other tables outside for a fresh-air experience. A casual environment and buffet service allow everyone to sit where they choose, get up when they want, and mingle without the restrictions and course order of a sit-down meal.

Michelle Nussbaumer
Credit: Julie Soefer

Michelle reimagined her Dallas breakfast room to include a green-and-white aviary pattern, "La Voliere," from Mind the Gap, a Transylvanian manufacturer of design goods that Michelle discovered during a trip to Paris. Fabrics from her own Clarence House collection, "Joseph's Coat" stripes on the chairs and "Cosmico Ikat" with "Adorno" trim for the tablecloth, complement the wallcovering.

indian temple carving breakfast room
Credit: Julie Soefer

A 19th-century Indian temple carving with intricate decoration amplifies the detailed motif of the breakfast room wallpaper. Michelle uses the piece to display some of her favorite things. During a trip, she picked up the ceramic Moorish head vase, a popular collectible among visitors to Sicily, and it's become a favorite piece for flower arrangements.

dinner setting zebra plate bird napkin
brass urns flatware
Left: Credit: Julie Soefer
Right: Credit: Julie Soefer

Michelle's 19th-century dinner plates pair with napkins made of her "Heraklion Damask" fabric for Clarence House, embroidered by Loro Lino. Etched glasses are from Mexico, where Michelle resides part-time. A trio of brass urns organizes flatware.

Michelle loves to transport her guests to places that have given her great memories; in this case, Morocco. She praises buffet-style meals for their ability to be flexible (and adds that it's just fine to mix homemade food with tasty treats prepared by someone else). Here, she included puff pastry with Cambozola cheese and honey; greens mixed with dates, oranges, Marcona almonds, and cauliflower; layers of heirloom tomatoes with olives and herbs; chicken supreme and spiced rack of lamb with saffron rice; vanilla ice cream with raspberries and pistachios; and a fashionable, shockingly pink Mezcal martini with prickly pear. The menu and recipes were created by chef Mary Payne Moran.

old english china plates green chinese export bowls
Credit: Julie Soefer

When it came to serving pieces and other wares to show off the delicious recipes, Michelle selected from her inventory of pieces that she's collected for decades from all over the world. Here, Old English china plates and Chinese export bowls pair well with napkins from D. Porthault.

"People ask me what the key is to mixing so many things that don't 'match' or 'go together,'" Michelle says. "My theory is if you use things that you love, somehow they play together. It might not be anything that you can see, but it's something that you feel. I love my collections—they are memories of my travels. Whether or not they are the same pattern doesn't matter. My love for them is the unifying thread that makes them work."

radishes, green onion, ricotta salsa heirloom tomato salad
Credit: Julie Soefer

Heirloom Tomato, Radish, Green Olive, and Ricotta Salata Salad

Radishes, green olives, and ricotta salata top an heirloom tomato salad.

Hands-On: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

  • 4 large (1¾ to 2 pounds) heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1¼ cups (5 ounces) ricotta salata, cut in ¼-inch cubes
  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1 cup basil, cut into thin strips
  • 1/3 cup pitted green olives
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil
  • Gray sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper

Layer tomatoes on serving plate; set aside.

In large mixing bowl toss together parsley, ricotta salata, radishes, basil, green olives, and lemon zest. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the mixture; toss to mix. Top tomatoes with mixture.

Drizzle salad and tomatoes with walnut oil. Sprinkle with gray sea salt and cracked black pepper. Makes eight servings

spiced grilled rack of lamb
Credit: Julie Soefer

Spiced Grilled Rack of Lamb and Chicken Supreme with Cherry-Orange Chutney

Moroccan flavors abound in the main course, Spiced Grilled Rack of Lamb and Chicken Supreme, sweetened with a cherry-and-shallot chutney.

Hands-On: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Turmeric Paste:

  •  ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Pinch saffron threads

Cherry-Orange Chutney:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  •  ¼ cup chopped shallots
  • 1 cup dried cherries (or mixture of fresh and dried)
  • ½ cup champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

Grilled Rack of Lamb and Chicken Supreme:

  • 8 (6-ounce) chicken breast supremes*
  • 3 (1 to 1½-pound) lamb rib roasts, trimmed
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  •  ½ teaspoon salt
  •  ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch watercress

Turmeric Paste:

In small bowl combine oil, turmeric, ginger, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and saffron.

Cherry-Orange Chutney:

In small saucepan melt butter over medium. Add shallots; cook until golden brown. Add cherries, vinegar, sugar, and crushed red pepper. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat; simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer to food processor. Pulse to lumpy paste consistency. Stir in orange juice. Let cool before serving.

Grilled Rack of Lamb and Chicken Supreme:

Cover chicken supremes and lamb rib roasts with Turmeric Paste. Place in baking dish; cover. Marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes.

Preheat outdoor grill to medium. Arrange for indirect cooking.

Coat chicken and lamb with nonstick cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper.

Place lamb rib roasts on grill rack directly over medium heat. Cover; sear 5 minutes, turning once. Move lamb to indirect heat. Cover; grill 10 to 15 minutes for medium-rare (135°F). Meanwhile, place chicken over indirect heat. Cover; grill 15 to 18 minutes or until no longer pink (165°F), turning once.

Remove meat from grill; let rest five minutes. Slice rib roasts into chops.

Top lamb and chicken with watercress. Serve with Cherry-Orange Chutney and Jeweled Saffron Rice. Makes eight servings.

Make-Ahead Tip: Make Turmeric Paste and Cherry-Orange Chutney up to 3 days ahead. Cover; store in refrigerator until ready to use.

*Tip: If you can't find chicken supreme cuts, boneless breasts with the first wing portion attached, at your market, use bone-in chicken breast halves and remove the bone, or use skinless boneless chicken breast halves.

Cambozola en Croûte with Hot Honey
Credit: Julie Soefer

Cambozola en Croûte with Hot Honey

Cambozola is a cow's milk cheese. In style, it is a combination of a French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola.

Hands-On: 15 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

  • ½ (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry (1 sheet)
  • 4 ounces Cambozola cheese
  • ¼ cup honey with honeycomb

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Thaw puff pastry at room temperature until pastry easily unfolds, up to 40 minutes.

Unfold pastry. Use rolling pin to lightly roll out creases without making the square larger. Cut pastry into 16 squares.

Place squares on baking sheet. With tines of fork, press down center of each pastry. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Slice cheese into 16 squares to fit on each pastry. In small glass bowl heat honey in microwave on 100% power (high) 25 seconds. Place a cheese square in center of each warm pastry. Drizzle each with honey; serve. Makes eight servings.

pink mezcal prickly pear martini
Credit: Julie Soefer

Mezcal Prickly Pear Martini

Like tequila, mezcal is made from agave plants, but mezcal is smoked and retains a smoky flavor.

Start to Finish: 5 minutes

  • Ice cubes
  • 2 ounces water
  • 1½ ounces mezcal
  • 1 ounce prickly pear syrup
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1 sprig fresh basil

To ice-filled cocktail shaker add water, mezcal, prickly pear syrup, and crushed red pepper. Cover; shake until well-chilled. Double strain into martini glass. Garnish with basil. Makes one serving.

red pattern table cloth saffron rice
Credit: Julie Soefer

Jeweled Saffron Rice

Saffron rice jeweled with pomegranate seeds and a green salad with roasted cauliflower and Marcona almonds are served on 19th-century majolica.

Hands-On: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped shallots
  • ½ cup chopped asparagus
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups short grain rice, thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 to 2 pinches saffron threads
  • 2 2/3 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds

In large saucepan heat oil over medium. Add shallots; cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus and salt. Cook 3 minutes. Stir in rice and saffron; cook 1 minute.

Add chicken stock. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, 15 minutes.

Fluff rice with fork. Spoon into serving bowl. Gently fold in pomegranate seeds. Makes eight servings.

cauliflower salad 19th-century majolica
Brass servers are from Addison Weeks.
| Credit: Julie Soefer

Endive, Radicchio, and Arugula Salad in Creamy Champagne Vinegar Dressing

Hands-On: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Salad:

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  •  ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups arugula
  • 1 cup sliced radicchio
  • 1 cup chopped endive
  • 1 cup orange supremes (from 2 oranges)
  • 8 dates, seeded and chopped (1 cup)
  • ¼ cup roasted and salted Marcona almonds
  • Salt and ground black pepper

Creamy Champagne Vinegar Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  •  ¼ teaspoon salt
  •  ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Salad:

Preheat oven to 425°F. In shallow baking pan, toss cauliflower florets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tender and lightly browned.

In large bowl add arugula, radicchio, endive, orange supremes, dates, and almonds. Drizzle with Creamy Champagne Vinegar Dressing; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Top with roasted cauliflower. Makes eight servings.

Creamy Champagne Vinegar Dressing:

In small bowl whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper until smooth.

Make-Ahead Tip: Make the dressing up to 3 days ahead of time. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

19th-century-cabbage-bowl-ice-cream-00724d83
Credit: Julie Soefer

Vanilla Ice Cream with Raspberries and Pistachios

A 19th-century cabbage-shape bowl gives a whimsical presentation to vanilla ice cream with fresh raspberries and pistachios folded into the frozen dessert. Crescent-shape cookies are displayed on a majolica plate.

Hands-On: 15 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes plus freezing overnight

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla
  • 12 ounces red raspberries
  • 1/3 cup roasted and salted pistachios, chopped if desired

In medium bowl whisk egg yolks; set aside.

In medium saucepan add cream, half-and-half, and sugar. Cook over medium heat until scalding hot (bubbles form on outside edge of pot).

Gradually add about half of cream mixture to yolks, whisking constantly. Add yolk mixture back to saucepan. Cook over medium, stirring constantly until mixture coats the back of metal spoon. Stir in vanilla.

Remove saucepan from heat. Place pan in bowl of ice water. Cool, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Transfer ice cream base to covered container. Chill in refrigerator 3 hours to 24 hours.

Freeze ice cream base in 4- to 5-qt. ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions. Transfer to freezer container, layering with half the raspberries and the pistachios. Freeze overnight.

Serve with Crescent Cookies, garnished with remaining raspberries. Makes eight servings.

Tip: Ice cream should be made a day ahead for the best texture.

Crescent Cookies

Hands-On: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 12 minutes

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar and extra for dipping
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups fine almond flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

In large bowl cream butter and ½ cup powdered sugar with mixer on medium. Add all-purpose flour, almond flour, vanilla, and salt; mix well.

Mold 1-inch portions of dough into crescent moon shapes. Place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill in refrigerator 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are light brown.

Cool cookies on wire racks. Dip cookies into additional powdered sugar to coat. Makes about 40 cookies. To Store: Before dipping baked cookies in powdered sugar, store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days, or label and freeze up to 3 months. Dip in powdered sugar before serving.

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