Serving tips and recipes from a former Baltimore restauranteur [classic article]

Do you remember Smedly’s in Fell’s Point? It won accolades as a café for its chef-created innovative foods and drinks. Chef and owner Helena Williams is moving to Indiana and has thus closed its doors. However – here’s the good news! – until she officially moves (date uncertain), you can get order custom take-out items for small or large parties. Ms. Williams learned her culinary skills at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She’s clearly also a mom and teacher at heart: before she goes, she wants to make sure that you, the reader, knows how to create your own divine party. I was happy to sample some of her specialties. She has a philosophy of starting off with seasonal, local produce and working out from there. When you order her creations to pick up, they will come in individual sized portions with instructions for serving and presentation. Don’t worry! Nothing is precious or over-worked; despite the fancy culinary background, Williams prefers a chic, light, Mediterranean-style of cuisine. The fresh flavors of herbs and veggies stand out. Her customers range from local Fells Point residents including Johns Hopkins physicians to folks who come up from DC for her tasty offerings.

A party buffet is perfect for entertaining and taking it easy on yourself. Williams has professional tips for making it great:

  • Before planning your menu, explore regional markets (like window shopping), to know what local fresh foods to incorporate.
  • Make a list of what’s available and how you might want to serve them.
  • Plan the first draft of your menu. Think about three main things: how long will it take to prepare the item, how long ahead of time can you prepare it (or at least prep some of the parts); will the dish hold up for the duration of the event, can you reheat or refresh it easily; will it taste good?
  • Review the draft menu from an overall perspective. Serve a few cold dishes, a few dishes that are at their best room temperature, a couple that need to be kept hot.
  • Take into account the special needs, preferences and diet restrictions of guests. Williams’ savoir faire of this subject goes far beyond Kosher, vegan, salt-free. She is aware of many kinds of needs and is completely against bringing out something that looks like a doggie bag for the person with special needs. It’s best to incorporate items for everyone into the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests what they can eat!
  • For buffet parties, try to avoid anything that must be done on the spot, unless it’s grilling or serving ice cream. Try to get some of your guests to pitch in.
  • Shop, revise menu if need be.
  • Plan your preparation schedule! Use post-it notes to stay organized, throw them away as you complete each task. Organize them in order. Make a separate list of things guests can do to help.
  • Arrange the table, set out the food, drinks, and plates, utensils, napkins, etc.
  • Grab a glass and enjoy your own party!

Here is a recipe from Ms. Williams that’s simple and delicious:

Warm Zucchini Nut Muffins & Herb Butter

Preheat oven to 350

Place muffin papers in muffin tins

Makes about 24 regular sized or 15 large, or countless mini ones

So great for parties!

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp cinnamon

 

2 cups sugar

4 eggs room temperature

1 cup corn oil

2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini (2 medium sized; about 12 oz)

1 cup chopped walnuts

½ golden raisins

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Sift together first 5 ingredients and set aside.

Combine sugar and eggs in large bowl of electric mixer and beat at med low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the oil in a slow steady stream, beating constantly for 2-3 minutes.

Add zucchini and vanilla and blend well.

Stir in walnuts and raisins.

Add sifted dry ingredients just until batter is evenly moistened. Don’t over mix.

Spoon into muffin tins until they are 2/3 full.

Bake until lightly browned (about 25 minutes)

Let stand 10 minutes, then remove from tins. Cool.

These freeze well. When totally cool. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and put them in a basket on the buffet: they stay fresh. Or place them wrapped muffins in the freezer in a zip lock bag. Warm them in either the oven or the microwave oven and serve with softened herb butter (chopped thyme and savory is very good!)

 

 

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