Serena Bass can make any occasion a party. She is, after all, a professional caterer, not to mention the namesake proprietress of Serena’s, the swank celebrity lair she and her son Sam Shaffer carved out of the Chelsea Hotel basement. But she takes special pleasure entertaining her own friends and family at her private retreat, a chic house in the Connecticut woods.
Serena’s sister Gaynor had planned a trip to visit her daughter, actress Minnie Driver, giving Serena the perfect excuse to throw a party (not that she ever needs one). And so on a recent weekend she gathered a houseful of guests, including hair stylist John Barrett, novelist Roxana Robinson, restaurateur Jonathan Morr, flower and event designer Antony Todd, filmmaker Paul Morrissey, and writer Daisy Garnett.
Then she got busy. Because as everyone knows – but none quite so well as a professional party planner – perfect weekends don’t just happen. They take work, most of which Serena advises doing well in advance. By the time she leaves town Friday afternoon, she’s packed her car with the makings of her weekend menu, including a Friday-night supper that’s been completely readied for the oven: a simple one-dish meal like lasagna or shepherd’s pie that frees her to make introductions as her guests straggle in.
“She has a knack of putting dynamic people together who invariably get on,” says Barrett, a regular at Serena’s table. “So it’s hard to drag yourself away from her lunches at eight o’clock in the evening.”
“I don’t want to do restaurant food in the country,” says Serena, who prefers to cook home-style food with a few seriously gourmet twists. She slathers garlic bread, for instance, with an herby blend of parsley, basil, and tarragon, and enlivens her borscht with a dash of Aleppo pepper. If you think that nothing can rev up potato salad, you haven’t tried juniper berries. Serena has. She’s also devised two summer salads that artfully blend the raw and the cooked (roasted Japanese eggplant and fresh tomatoes, sauteed artichokes and arugula).
As good as horseradish mayo is as a garnish for marinated beef sprinkled with fleur de sel, it’s even better on sandwiches made with the leftovers. And Serena’s inspired, chocolate-crusted take on lemon-meringue pie is a cinch – provided you don’t forget to pack the lemon-custard filling, which, if you follow Serena’s directions precisely, you’ll have cooked and frozen in advance.
Menu for 8 Pimm’s or Bloody Marys with fresh horseradish Borscht
Marinated beef with horseradish mayo
Baby Red Bliss potato salad with juniper and buttermilk
Garlic bread with green butter
Serena’s chocolate lemon-meringue tart
3 pounds medium beets, unpeeled (about 12 medium beets)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 small white cabbage, shredded (about 8 ounces)
4 cloves garlic
12 cups chicken stock
4 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
(1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes can be substituted)
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 Knorr beef bouillon cube
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 crème fraîche
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut half of the beets into 1-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan; add the beets, onion, cabbage, and garlic; and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the chicken stock, cloves, bay leaves, Aleppo pepper, black pepper, and stock cube. Cover the saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 1 and 1/4 hours.
Place the remaining beets in a glass dish. Add 1/4 inch water, and cover with foil. Roast in the oven for about 1 hour, or until the beets are cooked. When they’re cool, peel and roughly dice.
Strain the beet-cabbage mixture, discarding the solids. Add the liquid to a blender with the reserved roasted diced beets and sour cream, and purée until smooth. Add the sherry vinegar, and season to taste with salt. Place in refrigerator until well chilled. Serve chilled in individual bowls, each topped with a swirl of crème fraîche and garnished with dill.
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 cup chopped rosemary
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds beef fillet
1/4 cup kosher salt
Fleur de sel, to scatter over cooked beef
Combine garlic, pepper flakes, black pepper, rosemary, and oil in a Ziploc bag, add the beef, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Remove the beef from the marinade, rub with salt, and place on a half sheet pan.
Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees for medium rare. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
2 and 1/2 pounds baby Red Bliss potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons Grey Poupon Country mustard
3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon juniper berries, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
Put the potatoes into a saucepan of cold, well-salted water, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until just done (until a knife point penetrates easily; do not allow the potatoes to become mushy). Drain the potatoes, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, and spread them on a paper towel to dry.
Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, juniper berries, salt, pepper, and buttermilk in a bowl until combined, then gradually whisk in the oil until the dressing is creamy. Put the tepid potatoes in a large mixing bowl, and stir in half the buttermilk dressing and coat the potatoes. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight. One hour before serving, stir in the remaining buttermilk dressing, parsley, and scallions.
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups canola oil
1/3 cup sour cream
8 ounces fresh horseradish, finely grated
Place the eggs, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a blender (or food processor) and blend for 8 seconds. With the motor running, drizzle in oil slowly until the mixture becomes thick. Remove the mayonnaise to a bowl, and fold in the sour cream and horseradish.
2 pounds Japanese eggplant, cut into 1 1/2-inch diagonal slices
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
11/2 pound tomatoes, cut in 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup shredded basil
2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the eggplant in a roasting pan and toss with 1/2 cup of the oil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool.
Toss together the tomatoes, basil, vinegar, garlic, and remaining oil in a large bowl. Stir in the eggplant, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
1/4 cup finely minced shallots
1/2 cup finely chopped ripe tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried chervil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 lb. frozen artichoke bottoms (available at Kalustyan’s, 123 Lexington Avenue, near 28th Street; artichoke hearts, frozen or packed in oil, may be substituted)
6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped tarragon
8 ounces baby arugula
Vinaigrette: Place the first seven ingredients in a bowl, and slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking continuously.
Salad: Put the artichokes and stock in a saucepan, and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain. When artichokes are cool enough to handle, cut each into 8 wedges (skip this step if using artichoke hearts). Heat the butter in a large skillet, add artichokes and garlic, and sauté until the artichokes are golden brown. Remove from heat, and toss with the tarragon.
Put the arugula in a shallow bowl, and toss with 1/2 cup of the tomato-shallot vinaigrette. Scatter the cooled artichokes over the arugula, and serve immediately.
1 and 1/2 cups roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 and 1/2 cups roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 and 1/2 pounds unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 loaves French bread
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend, scraping the sides occasionally, until a smooth green-flecked cream forms.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the French bread into 1 and 1/2-inch-thick slices, keeping them in order. Reassemble the loaf on aluminum foil, coating the cut sides of each slice of bread with the green butter. When all the sides are coated, wrap the bread in the foil. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Serve immediately. (This recipe makes more green butter than you need, but it freezes beautifully and is great on fish or steak.)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Belgian cocoa powder
5 ounces unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 orange, zest only
Zest and juice of 2 lemons (about 3 ounces)
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons sweet butter, sliced
Pinch of salt
1 pint raspberries
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Pastry: Put the flour, cocoa, butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10 times, then slowly add 5 tablespoons ice water while pulsing another 10 times. Place the dough in a plastic bag, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Form the dough into a disk about 5 inches in diameter. Allow to rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or overnight. (May be frozen at this point.)
Filling: Put the orange and lemon zests, lemon juice, yolks, whole eggs, and sugar in a saucepan, and whisk until smooth. Place over medium heat and stir constantly. When warmed through, gradually add the butter, and continue stirring until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Set aside. (The sauce can be frozen at this point.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll the pastry (between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment if it is a little soft) to fit a 10-inch tart pan. Prick the base of the tart all over with a fork, and freeze for 15 minutes.
Line the tart shell with aluminum foil, cover the base of the foil with dried beans or pie weights, and bake for 20 minutes. Gently remove the foil and bake for a further 20 minutes. (Cover the edge of the tart shell with foil if it starts to burn.) Remove from the oven, and add raspberries to cover the base of the tart. Pour citrus sauce over the fruit to fill the shell.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Return the tart to the oven for 15 minutes to allow the sauce to set. Remove from oven.
Beat the egg whites at room temperature with salt until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, and beat on high speed for 30 seconds more, until glossy, soft peaks form.
Pipe the meringue over the citrus sauce using a large star tip (or swirl the meringue decoratively with the back of a spoon) and return to the oven for 20 minutes, until the meringue is lightly colored. Do not refrigerate or wait more than an hour before serving, as meringue will become soft.
Before leaving New York, ask your guests what they like for breakfast, so you can have it on hand and not have to go stumbling down to the shops with a coat over your nightie.
Keep hypoallergenic pillows on hand.
Make sure to have a really first-class first-aid kit for treating bee stings, allergies, or burns; add Band-Aids, suntan lotion, antibiotic cream, and Cortaid for poison ivy, and show them where it is kept.
Put extras of all the indispensable stuff – toothbrushes, deodorant, Tampax, even condoms – in the bathroom cabinet.
Prepare for rainy days with books, games, videos, DVDs, packs of cards. And lots of pads and pencils – that’s what you never have enough of.
Make sure there’s a plunger in each bathroom – it’s so embarrassing for guests if they clog up country plumbing.
Keep extra pairs of sunglasses – and three different strengths of reading glasses.
Put flowers in a guest’s bedroom. There is nothing more welcoming than the feeling that you have been cared for even before you arrived. A kimono on the back of the door is also nice (you can get flat pack kimonos in Chinatown for $20).
Encourage guests who love to cook. Pay attention to what guests like to make – there’s more of a chance that they will make it if it’s their own idea. You can say, “Why don’t you make the claufouti – it sounds so fabulous!” Guests like to feel involved, and you can spend Saturday shopping with friends and planning meals.
In the summer, keep lots of extra straw hats and suntan lotion. And Wellingtons for winter.
Encourage friends to come in their own cars so that they can be independent. Make Xerox maps of the area so that they know where to walk, how to get to the movies, or where to go waterskiing.