The Essential, So-Simple Guide to Spring Entertaining
Brooke Parkhurst and James Briscione met as ten-year-olds at summer camp in Alabama, but they fell in love as adults over fried oysters, farm fresh peaches, and margaritas. The authors of Just Married and Cooking, Brooke and James teach a couples cooking class at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, where James is the Director of Culinary Development. We asked the couple for the secrets to throwing stylish spring parties—what to cook, how to keep guests busy, and who gets dish duty.
Choose a Focal Point
“We typically like to choose one dish we want to focus a lot of attention on, something that’s going to look really impressive, taste great, and be memorable,” James said. “We’d much rather have one truly great thing than throw out a whole big spread of lots of different things that are just good.”
Selecting a single centerpiece for a meal, Brooke added, helps all the other decisions fall into place. “When you have something that’s the focal point, it helps pull everything together,” from additional dishes on the menu to the tabletop decor.
But Don’t Be Afraid to Buck Tradition
“Neither one of us loves that giant ham,” Brooke admitted. Forgo the Southern buffet stalwart and do what James does. “I do a tied-up lamb shoulder, almost pot roast-style with beautiful little small vegetables—baby carrots and turnips and radishes. People don’t think of radishes like a vegetable that you cook, but I actually love them.” The bright pink orbs will look like jewels on the plate.
Give Each Other Space…
“It’s very romantic the idea of both of you standing there at the stove, stirring the pot together, but it’s not practical and not particularly helpful,” James said. “So if there’s something to be done at the table or in the dining room, somewhere else where guests are, one person is out there doing that and the other person is in the kitchen, and you almost switch off.” “You don’t want to both be squirreled away,” Brooke added.
Leading up to your party, prep different elements of the menu separately that can then be brought together in the end. “You don’t really want to do those thirty minute dinners when you’re both scrambling at the exact same time. You want to meal plan, so you can both prep different elements and at the end come together,“ Brooke said.
Be Inspired By The Spring Palette
“Spring is green and yellow,” James said, and those two colors can inspire a full-bloom menu. “You’ve got asparagus and peas and fiddlehead ferns and every other wonderful spring green vegetable there is. And lemon.” Think a vegetable ragu for pasta, Brooke suggested, and a simple dessert, like pie or a layered parfait, made with lemon curd or greet guests at the door with a bright lemon drink. “We like to have a house cocktail,” Brooke said. (And guests will like it too!)
“Little fresh touches in food make all the difference in the world,” James said, and suggests garnishing pastas and other spring dishes with pea tendrils. ”They make it look so much nicer and so refined, and it’s such a simple addition.”
Recipe: Spring Vegetable Ragout
Recipe: Lemon Curd Tart
Recipe: Meyer Lemon Blossom Cocktail
Keep It Casual
When guests ask if they can help, let them. When cooking becomes collaborative, it gives the meal a casual spirit and helps guests feel they had a hand in the homemade meal, Brooke says. Ask them to snap off the asparagus ends or zest lemons.
Embrace Tart Notes
“I always think about tart flavors in spring,” said James. Weave them through your menu, not only with lemon, but with a dessert made with buttermilk, like a bundt cake, or crostini with fresh goat cheese, brightened further by fresh peas and mint.
Visiting California recently, where a driveway was flanked with wild lavender, dessert inspiration struck Jamie. “He did a really simple panna cotta with buttermilk,” Brooke said, infusing the buttermilk with the fresh lavender. It was amazing how fragrant it was.” For more floral notes, scatter edible blooms like nasturtium or pansies throughout the meal, in salads or cocktails.
Recipe: Lemon-Buttermilk Bundt Cake
Keep It Fair
“And if it’s super late at the end of the night, I make him do the dishes,” Brooke said with a laugh. “I do the breakfast dishes, that’s the way that it is.”