Chef Jen Lewis of Jen’s Art of Cooking hosts a backyard soiree complete with cocktails and appetizers that complement the setting and the season
After a trip away last year, Jen Lewis returned to a surprise at her Fayetteville home: a backyard makeover courtesy of her handy husband, John. He transformed the space just off the home’s main living room into a relaxed and welcoming outdoor living room complete with a firepit, comfortable furniture, and a fountain. Now, with the couple’s home on the market, Jen wanted to host a garden party before bidding farewell to the property and this sweet spot in its backyard. Here’s an inside look at how she pulled together an evening to remember with a few of her closest friends.
“I chose orange, purple, green, navy, and gray for the evening’s palette,” Jen says. “These colors are in the garden and in our furniture, and I wanted the food to be an extension of that.”
Board of Plenty
The menu consisted of light appetizers, including an artisan cheese plate, that allowed guests to snack throughout the evening. Comprised of crackers, Serrano ham, apricots, kiwi, honey-maple and red-pepper walnuts, and an assortment of cheeses, the colorful board offers something for every taste.
A crudité tray features the best of the garden, including blanched asparagus, cherry tomatoes, rainbow carrots, radishes, and zucchini along with Jen’s Avocado Greek Yogurt Green Goddess Dip.
MIA Tarts created a tower of handmade tarts, including almond crème, hazelnut caramel, and vanilla with fresh fruit. Jen often works with this Northwest Arkansas-based vendor for events and gatherings, and she couldn’t resist the opportunity to share the treats with her guests.
Apricot & Lavender Vodka Martinis
2 ounces vodka
½ ounce St. Germain
½ ounce Lillet Blanc
1 ounce apricot nectar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon of Lemon-Lavender Simple
Syrup (see instructions and
lemon wheels and fresh lavender, for
Lemon-Lavender Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 lemon wheels
1 teaspoon culinary lavender buds
Create the simple syrup by adding water and sugar to a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the lemon wheels and lavender, and bring to a low boil until the sugar is melted. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid and allow it to cool completely.
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Pour into martini glasses and garnish with a lemon wheel and fresh lavender, if desired.
Note: The remaining simple syrup may be stored in the refrigerator for future use.
Zucchini Fritters with Smoked Salmon & Shrimp
1 pound (about 2 medium) zucchini
1 teaspoon coarse or Kosher salt, plus extra to taste
2 scallions, split lengthwise and sliced thin
1 large egg, lightly beaten
freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Sriracha powder
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
olive or another oil of your choice, for frying
½ cup goat cheese
½ cup cream cheese
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh herbs
poached shrimp or smoked salmon (1 piece per fritter)
Preheat oven to 200°F. Have a baking sheet ready.
Trim ends off zucchini and grate them either on the large holes of a box grater or, if you have one, using the shredding blade of a food processor.
In a large bowl, toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Wring out the zucchini in one of the following ways: pressing it against the holes of a colander with a wooden spoon to extract the water, squeezing out small handfuls at a time, or wrapping it in a clean dishtowel or piece of cheesecloth and wringing away the water. This will save the fritters from becoming soggy.
Return the zucchini shreds to the large bowl. Taste and if you think it could benefit from more salt, add a little bit more (we found 1/4 teaspoon more just right). Stir in scallions, egg, freshly ground black pepper, and Sriracha powder. In a tiny dish, stir together flour and baking powder, then stir this mixture into the zucchini batter.
In a large heavy skillet—cast iron is Jen’s preference—heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Drop small bunches of the zucchini mixture onto the skillet a few at a time so they don’t become crowded and lightly tap them with the back of your spatula to flatten. Cook the fritters over moderately high heat until the edges underneath are golden, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. If you find this happening too quickly, reduce the heat to medium. Flip the fritters and fry them on the other side until browned underneath, approximately 2 to 3 minutes more. Drain briefly on paper towels and then transfer to baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the warm oven until needed. Keeping the pan well oiled, repeat the process with the remaining batter. Make sure the fritters have at least 10 minutes in the oven to finish setting to allow them to get extra crisp.
For the topping, stir together the goat cheese, cream cheese, lemon zest, and any fresh herbs you want to include. Spread the mixture on the fritter and top with a poached shrimp or piece of smoked salmon.
Socialize with Jen!
Follow Jen on Instagram (@cookingfresh) for her latest recipes, musings, and adventures.