Welcome Spring With a Dinner Menu and Table That Exude Warmth and Freshness
The frigid air, bare trees, and short days of winter have all the woeful makings of a sad country song. That's why Nashville-based interior designer Roger Higgins can't wait to hit the stop button on that tune and play something that proclaims the arrival of spring, its cheerful future, and its beauty.
In Roger's world, the joyful spirit of spring performs with more than lyrics on paper that align with a melody and pull on the heartstrings. His version of creativity puts color and pattern on display for a visual production featuring welcoming interiors that rival a field of budding tulips.
For this gathering, Roger turned a wood-paneled dining room that he designed into a glorious environment to enjoy dinner and meaningful conversation with friends.
"By the time springs rolls around, everyone is eager to get out and get together," Roger says. "I love to host a dinner when there's no holiday, no real reason. It takes the pressure off and allows everyone to relax."
Roger's first challenge was to address the dining room's dark wood-paneled foundation. For spring, a facelift of light and bright hues brings the room to life. He draped the table with two cloths: a stone-colored, textural linen and a white hemstitched topper. The tablescape fittings turned to blues, greens, and a centerpiece of yellow tulips and white daffodils that are arranged in a low blue-and-white ceramic bowl.
The multiple colors of the famed "Tobacco Leaf" dinnerware pattern make the options for coordinates endless. Here, a porcelain salad plate from Mottahedeh shows the classic pattern and rests on the jade-color "Tourron" dinner plate from Jars.
Mismatched silver napkin rings add to the table's charm. "Oxford" napkins are from Kim Seybert. Above right, Roger mixed stemware, using both clear and green-color glasses. Delicate brown flowers on vintage transferware border a creamy and hearty sunchoke soup.
Not wanting to limit the party size, Roger set a second slightly less formal table in the breakfast area. While slightly more casual, the table repeats the dining room's color scheme.
"I have an attitude of 'the more the merrier,'" Roger says. "I always want to accommodate and have a couple of spots for people to mingle and bring a last-minute guest. People tend to hibernate after the holidays for a couple of months. I want to encourage a new season of memories."
This time "Tourron" soup bowls in jade from Jars sit on Vietri's "Lastra" white dinner plates. The blue "Marrakech" napkins from Kim Seybert jibe with pastel flower stems in vintage jars that decorate the table's center.
The dinner menu, created by chef Mary Payne Moran, focuses on fare that bridges the winter and spring seasons with complex flavors—but nothing overwhelming or heavy. The meal begins with chive-topped sunchoke soup while the entrée features swordfish that is lightly dressed with a familiar brown butter lemon caper sauce. Side dishes include garlic green beans and Pommes Anna, a dish that layers thin slices of potato in a circle that can be sliced into wedge pieces like a pie. In chic martini glasses, the mudslide dessert drink is accompanied by raspberry Linzer cookies.
Sunchoke Soup with Chives
Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, aren't artichokes at all. They're tuberous roots of a sunflower plant and have a delicious nutty, sweet flavor. Look for them in the produce aisle.
Start to Finish: 40 minutes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1½ cups chopped yellow onion
- ¾ cup chopped celery
- ½ cup chopped shallots
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 24 ounces sunchokes, peeled, or two 12-ounce packages frozen artichoke hearts
- 3 to 4 cups chicken stock
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Snipped fresh chives
- Fresh cracked black pepper
In large saucepan heat oil over medium-low. Add onion, celery, and shallots; cook and stir until glossy and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add sunchokes and chicken stock. Bring to boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Cool slightly, then transfer to blender in batches and puree (or use an immersion blender). Add soup back to saucepan; add cream. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish servings with chives and fresh cracked pepper. Makes eight servings.
Skewered Coppocollo, Gruyère, and Cornichon with Thyme and Black Pepper Mustard
Coppocollo, or coppa, is pork cured in wine, garlic, and seasonings. It has a deep red color and is sliced paper thin.
Start to Finish: 10 minutes
- 4 ounces thinly sliced coppocollo (32 slices)
- 16 small cornichons
- 16 ½-inch cubes Gruyère cheese
- Thyme and Black Pepper Mustard Sauce (see recipe)
Take two thin slices of coppocollo, fold in half, and roll into a cone. Skewer each coppocollo cone with a toothpick. Add a cornichon and a Gruyère cube to toothpick. Repeat to make 16 skewers. Add to platter for dipping in Thyme and Black Pepper Mustard Sauce. Makes eight servings.
Thyme and Black Pepper Mustard Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
- ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
Combine mustard, fresh thyme, and cracked black pepper. Mix well; set aside. Can be made a day in advance.
Swordfish with Brown Butter Lemon Caper Sauce, Pommes Anna, and Garlic Green Beans
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Bake: 5 minutes
Stand: 10 minutes
- 6 tablespoons unsalted Plugra butter, melted
- 5 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/16 inch thick on a mandoline (2¼ to 2½ pounds to get 6 cups)
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Garlic Green Beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 10 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 pound green beans, trimmed
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pea tendrils (optional)
Swordfish with Brown Butter Lemon Caper Sauce
- 8 6- to 8-ounce swordfish steaks, boned and skinned
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup capers, rinsed
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted Plugra butter, cut up
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- Lemon slices
Drizzle 1 tablespoon butter into 10-inch nonstick skillet; brush onto bottom and sides of skillet. Preheat skillet on medium. Remove skillet from heat. Overlap potato slices in circular manner (like shingles on a roof), covering entire skillet bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with butter. Continue circling and seasoning with butter, salt and pepper until all potatoes have been used and skillet is filled with potatoes. Cover; cook potatoes over medium 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Invert onto baking sheet. Return potatoes to skillet, unbrowned side down. Cover; cook 10 to 15 minutes more or until bottom is golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes before removing from skillet. Cut into wedges.
Garlic Green Beans:
In large saucepan heat oil on medium high. Add sliced garlic. Cook 1 minute until soft and aromatic. Add green beans; toss with oil and garlic. Cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add enough water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat, cover, and steam 8 minutes or until beans are crisp-tender. Drain water. Season with salt. Serve garnished with pea tendrils, if desired.
Swordfish with Brown Butter Lemon Caper Sauce:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Rinse swordfish and blot dry with paper towels. Season swordfish with salt and pepper.
Heat 12-inch nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon oil. Add two pieces of swordfish to the pan; sear 5 minutes, turning once. Remove from skillet; place on 15×10×1-inch baking pan. Continue with remaining swordfish, searing two at a time and adding oil as needed. Keep skillet for sauce. Place fish in oven for 5 to 6 minutes more or until fish is opaque and flakes when tested with fork.
Add lemon juice and capers to skillet. Simmer on medium 1 to 2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of skillet. Whisk in butter, one piece at a time, until incorporated. Stir in chives. Pour over swordfish. Garnish with fresh lemon slices. Serve with Pommes Anna and Garlic Green Beans. Makes eight servings.
Raspberry Linzer Cookies
Hands On: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup almond flour
- ½ cup raspberry preserves
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
In large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest until fluffy. Add egg, baking powder, and salt; continue to mix. Add both flours. Knead dough lightly to combine.
Divide dough in half. Between sheets of waxed paper, roll a dough piece to 1/8 inch thickness. Freeze between the waxed paper for 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle. Repeat with remaining dough piece.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Working with one piece at a time, remove waxed paper; let rolled-out dough stand at room temperature 5 minutes. Using a 1½- to 2-inch round cutter, cut dough into circles. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Gather scraps; repeat rolling between waxed paper, freezing (if necessary), and cutting. Cut smaller circles in centers of half the cookies.
Bake 14 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Spoon a teaspoon of raspberry preserves onto each whole cookie. Top each with a cutout cookie. Sift powdered sugar on cookies. Makes 12 sandwich cookies.
Start to Finish: 5 minutes
- Chocolate Sauce (see recipe)
- 1 cup vanilla ice cream
- 1 fluid ounce Irish whiskey
- ½ fluid ounce vodka
- Chocolate curls
Use piping bag to swirl Chocolate Sauce on inside of coupe glass.
Add ice cream, whiskey, and vodka to blender. Blend on high for 30 seconds or until smooth.
Pour into garnished glass. Top with chocolate curls. Serve with Raspberry Linzer Cookies. Makes one serving.
Tip: If desired, blend up to four times the amount at one time.
- 1 1.55-ounce bar good-quality milk chocolate, chopped
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
In small saucepan, melt together milk chocolate, cream, and unsalted butter. Simmer 1 to 2 minutes to thicken slightly; set aside.