Steven Stolman is a man after my own heart. It's not solely because of his immense charm, although I am a sucker for that kind of thing. And yes, he is the walking embodiment of preppy chic, something which I find to be pretty darn cool. But what has really made me his biggest fan is the fact that Steven is the king of the hors d'oeuvre.
There's no pretense to his style of entertaining, nor is there any attempt at being fancy and showy. Rather, Steven embraces that down to earth, old-fashioned way of entertaining that is to me really quite chic. We're talking hors d'oeuvres and appetizers such as deviled eggs, Lil' Smokies, and dips made from, shall we say, humble ingredients. Seriously, have you ever met anybody who doesn't like a good cocktail frank?
Steven and I got on an email roll recently sharing hors d'oeuvres recipes and entertaining tips. (I've decided that I have a long way to go before I can rattle dip recipes off the top of my head like Steven does.) While we were planning this post, Steven was named President of Scalamandre. He's perfect for this position. Scalamandre has such a glorious heritage, something which a person like Steven gets and respects. I'm really excited to see what's in store for the venerable fabric house.
But getting back to cocktail franks- Steven emailed to me his thoughts on entertaining. He did such a nice job with the text that I simply copied and pasted it below. And the title of this post? That too is courtesy of Steven. Because you know, if you serve really tasty food and plenty of booze, everything really can happen at cocktails!
Having miraculously reached middle age, I have resigned myself to certain absolutes. No matter how hard I work, God does not want me to have granite countertops or stainless steel appliances. Indeed, by the time I could afford them, Formica and Harvest Gold will have become chic again. So, for the foreseeable future, it's gonna be a white kitchen for me. And I don't mean modern, museum quality white. I mean 1970s "only seen by the help" white. In my Palm Beach apartment, I have the same stove that Samantha Stevens of "Bewitched" slaved over- sadly without the magical results. It's the kind of kitchen that caused Diana Vreeland to shriek "My god, I'm SNOWBLIND!" White on white on white- with the added allure of fluorescent lighting.
The result of having a rather retro culinary laboratory has caused me to be enamored by retro foods. I have a huge collection of 1950s-70s charity cookbooks- the kind with plastic spiral bindings and cutesy names like "Nothin' Says Lovin" or "Just Desserts" as published by the Garden Club of Sewickley and the like. And then there are my treasures- an original "I Hate to Cook Book" by Peg Bracken (genius) and the enigmatic "Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor" (useless except for the recipe for popovers that you know she never made- or ate for that matter.) My own repertoire has aped these classics- resulting in the reputation for being a pretty good homestyle cook. Thankfully, I come from a family that has always loved to entertain- from my grandparents' command performance Friday night dinners to my mom's impeccable dinner parties to my own gatherings in Palm Beach and now, after a 15 year hiatus, New York.
When the good folks at Scalamandre asked me to join the company as president, I immediately knew that I would have to ramp up my entertaining activities. The house of Scalamandre is the epitome of gracious living, and welcoming friends and business associates into one's home is the ultimate expression of that ethic. Once again, my surroundings would dictate my entertaining style. While spacious, I live in a studio apartment in what feels like the biggest apartment building on Earth. Built in the early 1960s by the legendary Rudin family, it's a behemoth of white brick, now totally enveloped in scaffolding as part of a multi-year exterior facade overhaul. Needless to say, I love it. But entertaining in a studio has its limitations. The last thing I want to do is go to bed amid the lingering odors of Cassoulet Toulousiene, one of my standbys. So for the duration, it's cocktails at my place followed by a restaurant dinner in the neighborhood. I have a fantastic, enormous 1970s sectional sofa plucked from a thrift shop, a stunning glass topped Fontana Arte coffee table on loan from by buddies at Van den Akker Antiques and another thrift shop find- a classic Mies van der Rohe "Brno" chair. It's kinda like the set of a television talk show, but it seems to be working. This format demands stationary hors d'oeuvre- so my gameplan involves bowls of nuts, olives and pepperoni, a big hunk of cheese with a knife stabbed into it Excalibur-style and one terrific retro cocktail spread- either with crackers or celery sticks. This array always looks fresh and not picked at, packs a lot of punch into a small space and seems to keep people coming back for more. It's also mercifully free of hummus.
1 bunch of scallions
1 pkg. real bacon bits (essential- nothing else works)
1 pkg. shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
Generous dash of Worcestershire Sauce
A few grinds of black pepper
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, chop scallions and bacon until they resemble wet, green sand. Add cheese and pulse a few more times. Turn out into a bowl and mix in mayonnaise and the rest of the ingredients. Chill before serving- and whatever you do, do not tell people what's in it. Most will guess "chicken salad." I have no clue why. This spread has 2 lives- serve it cold with crackers or spread it on toast rounds and broil until puffed and lightly browned.
MATER'S MESS (courtesy Polly Fawcett, Boston's extraordinary interior designer)
1 small onion
2 hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup green pimento-stuffed olives
1/2 pkg. shredded cheddar cheese
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine onion, olives and eggs. Pulse until lightly combined. Add cheese and continue to pulse, being very careful not to over-process. Turn out into a bowl and blend in cream cheese. Serve with Triscuits to be authentically North Shore Boston or with celery sticks or spread on cucumber slices if you're avoiding carbs. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ADD ANY OTHER INGREDIENTS OR VARY FROM THE METHOD (trust me, I've tried.)
A recent batch of Mater's Mess as prepared by Steven.
Backwards Deviled Eggs and Australian Cheddar served Excalibur style.
"Typical cocktail party spread at my Palm Beach apartment.
Tea sandwiches, Swedish meatballs or Lil' Smokies steamed in beer and a great old 1950s cocktail spread that has to included cheese, bacon, olives, hard boiled eggs... sometimes all of the above!"
A Christmas Day Paella dinner at Steven's Palm Beach apartment.
His Palm Beach apartment at the ready for guests.
Just a few of Steven's favorite cookbooks.
All photos courtesy of Steven Stolman.