Mix things up and create magic on the table with old and new dinnerware—and a tantalizing menu.

By Krissa Rossbund
January 29, 2021
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With many meals taking place at home, it's an ideal time to rethink the tablescape and its potential for a knock-your-socks-off presentation. Dismiss any thoughts of "it doesn't match or go together." A multiple-person table setting that repeats itself with declarative authority works. Take a look at what tableware you already have—especially vintage and all of those "onesies" without a match—and then mix eras, colors, and patterns.

Credit: Carson Downing

Layer in pieces where they're needed. Marry a chic new matte ceramic plate and a wood charger with the salad plate from Grandma's dainty wedding china. The challenge is to build a table surface with an aesthetic vision that hasn't been tapped into before.

Credit: Carson Downing

"Set the table every night," says Dallas-based Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, a lifestyle blogger, author, and online retailer of Shop KSW. "Mix your tabletop things into a different combination every chance you get, even for your immediate family. That way, when you are facing a dinner party with guests that you want to impress, you will have the confidence needed to create a beautiful table with ease."

Credit: Carson Downing

Many people are using their additional time at home for creative pursuits. Besides tackling an abstract painting or a needlepoint pillow, consider mastering the art of the tabletop mingle. Then watch your work be the start of new beginnings, rituals, and traditions celebrated for years to come. Try pairing your mix-and-matched settings with this tantalizing spring menu, with recipes created by chef Mary Payne Moran, for a truly show-stopping table.

Credit: Carson Downing

Chilled Cucumber-Cashew Soup

The combination of dill and cashews brings depth to this refreshing, light summer soup.

Prep: 20 minutes

Stand: 20 minutes

Chill: 2 hours

  • ½ cup roasted, unsalted cashews
  • 1¼ cups half-and-half
  • 3 pounds cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill weed, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Dill weed, julienned cucumber pieces, and shredded lemon peel

In a 2-cup measure, combine cashews and half-and-half. Let stand for 20 minutes.

Add half of the cashew mixture and half of the cucumbers to a blender container. Cover and blend until very smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Add the remaining cashew mixture, remaining cucumbers, green onions, sour cream, lemon juice, champagne vinegar, dill weed, parsley, and cumin to blender container; cover and blend until smooth. Strain and combine with first mixture. Discard solids.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Garnish with dill weed, julienned pieces of cucumber, and shredded lemon peel, as desired. Makes six servings.

Credit: Carson Downing

Home-Style Popovers

Using a high-fat butter, such as Plugra brand, makes these popovers extra-rich. This recipe can be easily doubled. Prepare one batch at a time. Preheating the muffin pan before filling it is important; don't skip that step.

Prep: 15 minutes

Bake: 25 minutes

  • 3 eggs
  • 1¼ cups milk
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons salted high-fat butter, such as Plugra, melted (plus additional butter for greasing)
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Whipped Plugra butter for serving*

Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, milk, buttermilk, and the 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add flour and salt; whisk until smooth.

Generously grease twelve 2½-inch muffin cups with additional butter. Place the muffin pan in the oven for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and fill each muffin cup three-quarters full (about ¼ cup each) with batter.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes until puffed and well browned. Do not open the oven until done. Remove from the oven and immediately invert onto a clean kitchen towel. Stand up popovers to cool. Serve with whipped butter. Makes 12 popovers.

*For whipped butter, allow ½ cup salted Plugra butter to come to room temperature. Whip with a spatula or electric mixer on low speed until light and airy.

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Blackberry Shrub

A shrub is a spiked fruit juice cocktail with a refreshing, bright flavor. Don't let the vinegar in the homemade juice scare you off. When heated, it adds tang not sourness. Shrubs are becoming popular with mixologists because of their handcrafted and fresh ingredients.

Prep: 15 minutes

  • 2 ounces Blackberry Juice (recipe below)
  • 1½ ounces light rum or brandy
  • ½ 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 one cocktail.

Blackberry Juice

In medium saucepan combine 4 cups blackberries, 2 cups sugar, and 1 cup red wine vinegar. Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 1 hour and then strain. Discard blackberry pulp.

Credit: Carson Downing

Grilled Flat Iron Steak Salad with Red Pepper Dressing

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: 10 minutes

Stand: 20 minutes

Red Pepper Dressing:

  • 1 medium red sweet pepper, roasted*
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ medium shallot
  • 1 fresh serrano pepper, stemmed and seeded**
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Roasted Potatoes:

  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes (1½ to 2 pounds), each cut into eight wedges
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Steak Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 fresh serrano pepper, seeded, and finely chopped**
  • 1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme

Grilled Flat Iron Steak Salad:

  • 4 12-ounce boneless beef chuck top blade (flat iron) steaks, cut about 1-inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Steak Rub
  • 8 cups baby greens
  • Red Pepper Dressing
  • Roasted Potatoes
  • ¾ cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Red Pepper Dressing:

In food processor or blender combine roasted sweet pepper, ½ cup olive oil, vinegar, shallot, one serrano pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and process or blend until smooth. Set aside.

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.

Steak Rub:

In small bowl combine paprika, coriander, one finely chopped serrano pepper, and fresh thyme.

Grilled Flat Iron Steak Salad:

Season steaks with salt and pepper and rub both sides of each steak with Steak Rub. Let stand for 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 eight plates. Top with potatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, and sliced steak. Pass remaining dressing. Makes eight servings.

*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 halves, 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.

**Because hot chile peppers, such as serrano peppers, 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.

Credit: Carson Downing

Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli

The best crab cakes are chock-full of crab and skimpy on the filler. These mini versions are lightened up with a combination of whipping cream and sour cream. Make sure you purchase fresh cooked crab from the seafood counter.

Prep: 25 minutes

Chill: 30 minutes

Cook: 12 minutes

Crab Cakes:

  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1¼ cups panko, divided
  • 8 ounces cooked crab, rinsed and picked clean
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ cup canola or vegetable oil

Lemon Aioli:

  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • ¼ cup refrigerated or frozen egg product, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Crab Cakes:

In large skillet cook shallot in hot butter over medium 3 minutes or until soft and tender. Remove from skillet; let cool.

Heat same skillet over medium. Add ¾ cup panko to skillet. Toast 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove panko from skillet; let cool.

Line large bowl with folded paper towels. Place crab on paper towels; squeeze to remove excess liquid. Discard paper towels and any liquid in bowl. Add crab back to bowl. Add sour cream, lemon juice, whipping cream, cooked shallots, chives, salt, and pepper. Fold into crab. Stir in cooled toasted panko. Cover and chill mixture 30 minutes.

Place flour in shallow dish. Place beaten egg mixture in another shallow dish. Place remaining panko in a third shallow dish. Using rounded tablespoon of crab mixture for each, form 16 small cakes. Lightly coat each crab cake with flour, then egg mixture, then panko.

In large skillet heat ¼ cup oil over medium. Add half of crab cakes to skillet; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden. Transfer to baking sheet. Keep warm in 200°F oven. Repeat with remaining oil and crab cakes. Serve with Lemon Aioli. Makes eight servings.

Lemon Aioli:

In blender or food processor combine garlic, egg product, lemon juice, and salt. Cover and blend or process 5 seconds or until smooth. With blender or food processor running, gradually add oil in thin, steady stream. When necessary, stop machine; scrape down sides. Fold in chives. Serve or cover and chill up to 3 days.

Credit: Carson Downing

Tart Cherry Posset

Possets are quite old—and old-fashioned. Originally an English boiled drink of milk mixed with wine and ale, the first known recipes date from 14th-century cookery manuals. Today, it is a creamy three-ingredient dessert that is slightly sturdier than a mousse. If you like, you can substitute ½ cup lemon juice and 2 ounces Grand Marnier for the cherry juice.

Hands On: 10 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours 50 minutes including cooling and chilling

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup tart cherry juice
  • ½ cup chopped maraschino cherries
  • Torn fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Kirschwasser (cherry brandy) (optional)
  • Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

In 5- to 6-quart pot combine cream and sugar. Bring just to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce to simmer. Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Stir in cherry juice. Pour posset into eight to ten 3- to 5-ounce glasses or serving dishes. Let cool. Cover top with plastic wrap. Chill 4 to 24 hours or until set.

In small bowl toss cherries with mint and Kirschwasser. Cover; chill  until serving.

To serve, top posset with cherries and mint. Serve with Rosemary Shortbread Cookies. Chill any remaining posset up to 3 days. Makes eight servings.

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

Hands On: 20 minutes

Bake: 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours 35 minutes including chilling

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

In large bowl, beat butter with mixer on medium to high 30 seconds. Add powdered sugar, rosemary, and salt. Beat on medium until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Beat in flour on low. Beat until mixture starts to cling together (may appear crumbly but will come together with continued beating). Shape dough into two 9-inch logs. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 2 to 24 hours or until firm enough to slice.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Slice dough into ½-inch-thick rounds and place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or just until edges start to brown. Cool on wire racks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Makes 40 cookies.

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