Host a Nautically-Inspired Gathering with a Menu That's Flush with Seaside Flavors
A group of friends sail into fall while floating across Palm Beach Harbor—and enjoy a memorable dinner on the way.
Boat life comes with order and protocol. The same can be said of entertaining. So when designer Danielle Rollins plans to host gatherings in Palm Beach, Florida, where she now operates her design firm, her invitations regularly lure friends and family to the yacht named Grace that she shares with her partner, Tom D'Agostino. For a dinner and evening cruise along the harbor, they welcomed aboard a group of friends.
"The nautical lifestyle is a neat and tidy one that I've always been drawn to," Danielle says. "High-gloss varnishes on the wood and beautifully coiled ropes: Everything is orderly and has a place. There's a proper way of living and entertaining."
For this gathering, Danielle wanted an environment that had intention but was seemingly effortless. The aesthetics took care of themselves. Blue and white formed a natural scheme literally taken from the water and cloud-punctuated sky.
Blue-and-white dinnerware speaks to the ocean, as does glassware with shell details.
Red and white flowers and knotted rope candleholders accent the blue-and-white table scheme.
The yacht shows its name on the casual navy napkins with white embroidery that line the bread baskets, white linens from Sferra that spell Grace using embroidered nautical flags, and a range of other custom elements.
A backgammon board from Nine Fair is customized for the yacht.
A moment of whimsical Florida flair adds an amusing touch to the bar, where Danielle corrals bright-color paper straws and flamingo swizzle sticks in a wicker vessel.
The menu was a mix of land and sea, Florida favorites, and autumn's bounty of fresh vegetables. Savory shrimp and crab cakes were sweetened with corn. Bacon lardons made sure that a butter lettuce salad didn't skimp on flavor. Guests were in control of the "take your pick" surf-and-turf entrée of steamed lobster, filet mignon, or both. Key lime tarts and a signature strawberry cocktail added sweet moments to the dinner party. The menu and recipes were created by chef Mary Payne Moran.
While entertaining should be relaxed for both guests and the host, Danielle notes that an easy atmosphere is achieved through a lot of thoughtful planning.
"People say that they 'throw' a party, but I don't believe in that," she says. "A gathering should be planned so the elements work for everyone. I love sitting back and watching guests have a great time and knowing that I played a part in creating the world that they stepped into for one night."
Strawberry Letter Aperol Cocktail
Hands On: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes including standing time
- Ice cubes
- 1½ ounces Strawberry Shrub (recipe below)
- 1 ounce Aperol
- 3 ounces La Vielle Ferme Rosé
- 1 ounce seltzer
- 1 fresh strawberry, for garnish
In ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine shrub, Aperol, and rosé. Cover; shake well until very cold. Strain into ice-filled goblet. Top with seltzer. Place strawberry on glass rim. Makes one serving.
- 3 cups strawberries, lightly mashed
- 1½ cups sugar
- ¾ cup red wine vinegar
In medium nonreactive saucepan, combine mashed strawberries, sugar, and red wine vinegar. Bring to boiling over medium-high. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand 1 hour. Strain; discard fruit. Cover; store in refrigerator up to 1 week. Makes 1½ cups.
Butter Lettuce Salad with Bacon Lardons, Sugar Bomb Tomatoes, Rustic Croutons, and Black Pepper Parmesan Dressing
Hands On: 20 minutes
Total Time: 27 minutes
- 1 8-ounce loaf ciabatta, torn into 1-inch pieces
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 6 thick-cut slices bacon, cut into ¾-inch-wide pieces
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 pasteurized egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons water, as needed
- 6 cups butter lettuce leaves, torn
- 1 cup Sugar Bomb tomatoes, halved, if desired
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place bread in bowl; drizzle with oil; toss to combine. Season with salt. Spread bread pieces in single layer in shallow baking pan. Bake 12 minutes or until pieces are crisp and golden, stirring once.
In large skillet, cook bacon 15 minutes over medium-low or until bacon is crisp. Drain on paper towels; set aside.
For dressing, in blender, combine Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, vinegar, and black pepper. Cover and blend to combine. With blender running, slowly add oil in thin, steady stream. Thin dressing to desired consistency by adding 2 to 3 tablespoons water. Season with salt to taste. Use immediately or cover and chill up to 3 days.
In large bowl, combine lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, and croutons. Drizzle dressing over salad; gently toss to combine. Makes eight servings.
Crab, Shrimp, and Roasted Corn Cakes with Basil Aïoli Sauce
Hands On: 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes including cooling and chilling time
Crab, Shrimp, and Roasted Corn Cakes:
- 1 cup fresh sweet corn on the cob, cut off the cobs, or frozen roasted corn
- 1½ tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 cups plain soft bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups (12 ounces) canned refrigerated lump crabmeat
- 5 to 6 ounces peeled and deveined cooked shrimp, finely chopped (1 cup)
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- Fresh basil leaves, optional
Basil Aïoli Sauce:
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Crab, Shrimp, and Roasted Corn Cakes:
Thaw corn, if frozen. In large skillet cook corn and shallots in butter 4 minutes over medium or until corn and shallots are tender. If using fresh corn, increase heat to high. Cook, without stirring, 1 minute more or until lightly browned. Transfer corn mixture to large bowl; let cool completely (about 30 minutes). Wipe out skillet; set aside. (You will use it later.)
Meanwhile, prepare crumb mixture. In shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, paprika, parsley, and salt; set aside.
Lightly beat one egg. Add beaten egg, ¼ cup of crumb mixture, crab meat, shrimp, ¼ cup mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, 1/8 teaspoon salt and pepper to cooled corn mixture. Mix; form mixture into eight equal balls.
Beat remaining two eggs in shallow dish. Dip each crab ball into egg mixture, then into crumb mixture to coat. Place on tray; gently flatten to form 3-inch patties. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.
In the large skillet add 2 tablespoons oil to coat bottom. Heat oil over medium. Cook patties, half at a time, 3 to 4 minutes on each side until golden brown and heated through. Add more oil between batches if needed. Drain on paper towels. Serve with Basil Aïoli Sauce. Garnish with additional fresh basil, if desired. Makes eight servings.
Basil Aioli Sauce:
In blender, combine basil leaves, ½ cup mayonnaise, and lemon juice. Cover; blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Maine Lobster with Drawn Butter and Filet Mignon with Béarnaise Sauce, Poached Asparagus, and Loaded Jacket Potato
The entrée of steamed lobster with drawn butter, filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, poached asparagus, and baked potatoes topped with caviar provides an array of decadent flavors.
Hands On: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- 8 small russet potatoes
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
- 1¾ cups Plugra butter
- 4 pasteurized egg yolks
- ½ cup coarse kosher salt or salt, plus more for seasoning
- 8 1-pound Maine lobsters
- 8 4-ounce beef tenderloin steaks (filet mignon)
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 pounds large asparagus spears
- 1 (18-ounce) container crème fraîche
- 1 (11-ounce) jar black caviar
- Lemon wedges
- Fresh tarragon
Preheat oven to 425°F. Rinse and dry potatoes. Use fork to pierce multiple holes on all sides. Bake on oven rack 40 to 60 minutes or until tender.
For tarragon vinegar, in small bowl, combine vinegar, shallot, and tarragon. Let stand 1 hour.
In small saucepan, bring tarragon vinegar to simmer; cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Melt ¾ cup of the butter. Let vinegar and butter cool 2 minutes.
Strain vinegar mixture; add to blender. While running on low, drop in egg yolks one at a time. Pour in warm melted butter in a thin, steady stream. Increase speed, blending until well combined. Season to taste with salt.
In 20-quart or larger kettle, bring 8 quarts water and ½ cup salt to boiling. Grasp lobsters just behind head; rinse under cold running water. Quickly put four lobsters headfirst into boiling water. Cover; return to boiling. Boil 15 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain steady boil. Remove lobsters from pot; remove any bands on large claws. Drain in sink on drying rack, head side down. Cook remaining four lobsters. Add to drying rack.
Preheat grill to medium. Remove steaks from refrigerator; bring to room temperature. Lightly coat each steak on both sides with salt. Coat each steak with nonstick spray. Place steaks on grill rack directly over heat. Cover; grill 15 to 19 minutes for medium rare (145°F), turning once halfway through grilling.
Cut asparagus into 6-inch lengths. Peel bottom 1 inch of each asparagus stalk. Fill large saucepan three-fourths full of water. Bring to simmer; add 1 tablespoon salt. Add asparagus; simmer 3 to 5 minutes until crisp-tender.
When cool enough to handle, place each lobster on its back. Separate lobster tail from body. Cut through tail membrane to expose meat. Remove and discard black vein running through tail. Remove meat from tail. Twist large claws away from body. Using nutcracker, break open claws. Remove meat from claws. Crack shell on remaining part of body; remove meat with small fork. Discard green tomalley (liver) and coral roe (found in female lobsters).
Melt remaining 1 cup butter. Split each potato down the middle and load on crème fraîche and caviar. Serve lobster meat with melted butter, steak with béarnaise sauce, loaded potatoes, asparagus, and lemon wedges. Garnish with additional fresh tarragon. Makes eight servings.
Key Lime Tarts
Guests pucker with delight when biting into dessert—individual key lime tarts with graham cracker crusts.
Hands On: 1 hour
Total Time: 4 hours including chilling time
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1 cup finely chopped toasted sliced almonds
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- Pinch salt
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- Zest from 4 key limes (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1/3 cup key lime juice
- 16 fresh key lime slices (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat eight 4-inch tart pans with nonstick spray. Place on 15x10x1-inch baking pan.
In medium bowl, combine graham crackers, almonds, melted butter, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Divide crumb mixture evenly among prepared tart pans. Press crumb mixture evenly on bottom and up sides of each tart pan. Chill 10 minutes.
Bake 8 minutes or until edges are light brown. Let cool on wire rack.
For filling, in large bowl beat egg yolks with electric hand mixer on medium until light in color (3 to 4 minutes). By hand, stir in sweetened condensed milk, lime zest, and key lime juice. Pour into baked tart shells.
Bake 10 minutes or until filling is firm when lightly touched.
Cool completely on wire rack. Cover and chill 2 to 24 hours. Garnish with key lime slices, if desired. Makes eight servings.