Let’s be honest, when planning a party menu, one factors in practicality as much as pleasing the palate. Constant stove-top attention and complicated recipes don’t sit well with the other responsibilities of hosting. Menus depend on such basic considerations as seating, oven space, and how long into the night guests may linger. Hence, it can be hard to translate restaurant recipes to our own kitchens. In Lilly for Company: Austin Casual Menus for Palm & Plate, Austinite Jane Lilly Schotz blends this kind of common sense with the passion of a connoisseur.
Through studying at London’s Cordon Bleu Cooking School and running the highly regarded Lilly & Co. take-out and catering company for fourteen years, Schotz has manned the kitchen for innumerable gatherings. In Lilly for Company she utilizes her professional anecdotes to cater to the average host’s concerns.
In the opening pages, Schotz is quick to note the real reason for throwing a party: to have fun. This is the crux of Lilly for Company – a cookbook that allows the host to relax. The table of contents is filled with words such as “casual,” “do-ahead,” and “easy”—adjectives that are music to a frantic host’s ears. Meals are categorized by the number of guests, ranging from fetes as large as 45 to a picnic dinner for four.
Before delving into the first round of recipes, Schotz reveals a few tricks of the trade. She offers suggestions for dealing with the inconsistencies of fresh ingredients, adding sugar to counter a flat or tinny flavor, roasting peppers, creating a basil purée, and mastering a velvety custard.
The bulk of the book consists of chapters arranged according to utensils—starting with “finger food” and progressing to the more refined “fork food” and “fork and knife food.” In each segment Schotz outlines full menus for varying-sized soirees, and each carte is prefaced with an explanation of its intricacies, along with suggestions for additions and substitutions depending on event particulars. The “Casual Cocktail Buffet for 40” is described as low-maintenance, but can be beefed up with the corn tarts on page 19. The “Vegetarian Feast for 8” is good for those with little more than a microwave. “Lunch for 12” is a coveted invitation for ladies who make lunching an art. Schotz rounds out the book with a selection of six soups or “spoon food.”
While recipes for vegetable goat cheese torta in phyllo pastry and duxelles tenderloin make the mouth water, what really sets Lilly for Company apart are these no-assembly-required menus. There’s no flipping from appetizer to salad to entree chapter, trying to decipher what flavors best complement each other. Schotz already has done the math.
She knows from experience that the crab cakes with spicy remoulade will be exquisite when paired with the herbed new potatoes, salad with a balsamic-soy-and-tahini dressing, and chocolate walnut tart in the “Summer Dinner for 10.” Or that an evening of roasted chicken breasts with a red wine-tomato-and-bacon sauce is best finished with an upside-down pear gingerbread. It is this attention to detail—this kind of TLC for the would-be bon vivant—that makes Lilly for Company as customer service-oriented as the Lilly & Co. catering company. Schotz’s goal is to make entertaining easy, because as she says, “A relaxed host is a better host.”