Monday, June 27, 2022 Jun 27, 2022
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Food and Drink

Perfect Recipes For Parties At A Weekend Lake House

A lake house designed for cooking and friendship.
By Rebecca Sherman |

The Asaffs are seen through counter level, sliding glass serving windows, which are used to pass wine and food outside to the table. Photography by Stephen Karlisch

This House Cooks
With the help of decorator Donn Bindler, Harl and Jim Asaff have turned their lake house into a gathering place for cooking and friendship.

TOP: Harl and Jim Asaff chose industrial Viking cooktops and open shelving, which give the kitchen a professional feel. BOTTOM: Paula Lambert’s Bocconcini appetizer.

It’s no mistake that there are four bedrooms in Harl and Jim Asaf’s weekend lake house. “We decided to have four bedrooms so that we can invite three other couples to stay over to cook. Each couple would be responsible for cooking a different course,” says Harl, who worked with decorator Donn Bindler to create a state-of-the-art kitchen that accommodates eight or more people at once.

Two large islands and a third workstation in the pantry—boasting wide countertops, bright lighting, and electrical outlets—provide ample areas for food preparation. Chopping, slicing, blending, boiling, washing, brewing, and stewing—it can all happen simultaneously, without elbows bumping or tempers flaring. It may look stylish, but it’s a real cook’s kitchen.

Two Wolf ovens (one with a large faucet for filling tall pots) mean several courses can cook and warm at once; a Northland stainless steel refrigerator with a glass front allows cooks to easily see what’s inside; two dishwashers mounted as cabinet drawers save space; while a stainless steel rolling cart that houses plates, glasses, cups, and silverware makes clearing and setting the table a cinch. Nothing ever goes back in the cupboards but remains stored in the cart and easy to reach. Like any good decorator, Bindler wanted to hide clutter, and that included the pans, knives, and other utensils. Harl insisted the pots and pans hang from racks and utensils be close at hand.

“Out here, you create your own entertainment, and that’s usually cooking and eating,” says Harl, whose lake house is 90 minutes south of Dallas near Corsicana. Once a month, the Asaffs and three other couples arrive with groceries in tow, ready to cook. The Asaffs’ past list of guests have included chefs, foodies, and restaurateurs. On the weekend we arrived, everyone was up early and working in the kitchen. It’s summer, so the fare is light. Paula Lambert, who brought an arsenal of cheeses and a sheaf of new recipes for a book due out in early 2007, made crispy phyllo hors d’oeuvres stuffed with queso blanco and some cherry tomato “baubles” skewered with fresh mozzarella balls. Larry Levine, who will soon open a new tequila bar in Dallas, grilled a chicken over a wood fire and made guacamole with smoked onions; Bindler poached pears for dessert and served them with berries and goat cheese topped with chopped pistachio nuts.

Paula Lambert prepares Queso Paquitos with Salsita Verde.


Cherry Tomato-Bocconcini Baubles
(Makes 10 Bocconcini Baubles)

Bocconcini, which means “a little mouthful” in Italian, are little balls of fresh mozzarella. Lambert saw a version of these charming little appetizers in a cheese shop window on the Left Bank in Paris. They are very easy to assemble and look great lined up like little soldiers on a serving platter.

Note: You may use any nut you have on hand for the pesto: pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, etc. The critical step is that the nuts be toasted because it enhances the flavor of the pesto.

Basil Pesto
 1     cup tightly packed basil leaves
 1/2  cup extra-virgin olive oil
 1     garlic clove
 1/2  teaspoon salt
 1/4  cup toasted pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans
 1/2  teaspoon lemon juice
 10   bocconcini, or 1 pound
 1     small zucchini
 10   grape-sized cherry tomatoes
 10   basil leaves

For basil pesto, combine basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pine nuts in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until pesto is smooth, and add lemon juice and additional salt to taste. Pesto should be pourable; add additional olive oil, if necessary, to thin it.

Pour pesto into a small bowl. Place bocconcini in the bowl and using a spoon, toss bocconcini to coat them with pesto. Set aside to marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

To construct baubles, place marinated bocconcini on a serving dish and drizzle with pesto. Slice zucchini into 10 thin rounds, each about 1/4-inch thick. Spear each round of zucchini with a toothpick, pushing toothpick through zucchini so that it extends out about 1/2 inch. Push longer ends of toothpicks into bocconcini, so that zucchini are on top of bocconcini. Spear one tomato atop the toothpick extending up from each zucchini slice.

To serve, garnish baubles with basil leaves, placing basil leaf partially under the tomato.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Poached pear with fresh berries and pistachios and crusted goat cheese ball, fresh tomato with smoked onion guacamole, and fire-roasted chicken.

The Asaffs’ outdoor dining table is set for the feast.

Donn Bindler’s “No Recipe” Poached Pears

White wine
Juice of two oranges
Toasted pistachio nuts
Goat cheese
Raspberries and blackberries
Mint sprigs

Select well-shaped pears of similar firmness with perfect stems. Peel pears with stem intact and shave bottoms so they will stand upright. Place in a saucepan and almost cover with equal parts water and white wine, juice of two oranges, and 1/2 cup sugar. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until pears are easily pierced with a knife. Remove pears and continue to simmer to reduce liquid for sauce.

Shell and chop pistachio nuts. Roll small balls of goat cheese in chopped nuts to coat. Rinse and glaze berries with sugar. On a plate, surround poached pear with berries, one goat cheese ball, and a sprig of mint, and top with sauce reduction.

Smoked Onion Guacamole
Don’t forget the smoked onions because they give this dish its distinct flavor.
 1     red onion, peeled and sliced in 1/2-inch thick slices
 1     cup oil and vinegar dressing
        Juice of 1 lemon 
 1/4  cup cilantro, chopped
 2     garlic cloves, chopped finely
 1     tomato, chopped
 2     ripe avocados
        Juice of 1 lime
 2     serrano peppers, seeded and chopped finely

Marinate onion in dressing and lemon juice for one hour. Remove onion and save marinade. Grill onion over charcoal grill until lightly charred on each side. Cool, then chop onion in 1/2-inch dice. Place onion, 2 ounces reserved marinade, cilantro, garlic, tomato, juice of lime to taste, salt, pepper, serrano peppers, and avocado in bowl. Crush with a fork until chunky. Season to taste for salt and lime.

Red’s Wood-Fired Chicken

Larry Levine cooks this over a wood-fired rotisserie at Red’s, a new tequila bar set to open this summer. It cooks at more than 800 degrees, but you can cook it on a charcoal fire at home. Just make sure it’s not directly under the chicken. Cook for about one hour to one hour and 15 minutes.

 1 whole chicken, 3 pounds
 2  teaspoons fresh rosemary
 2  garlic pods, chopped
 2  sprigs fresh thyme

 2     teaspoons kosher salt
 3/4  teaspoon cracked pepper
 1     pinch cumin
 3/4  teaspoon paprika
  2    tablespoons apple juice

Rub garlic, rosemary, thyme, and one-third of rub in cavity of the chicken. Rub balance of rub over outside of chicken and marinade over night.

Build a hot fire that is not directly under the spit. Place chicken on the spit and roast one hour or until chicken has reached 165 degrees internal temperature.

Emilia’s Wonderful Chilies

 Serrano or jalapeño chilies
 Maggi sauce, available at Central Market
 Juice of 1 lemon
 Goat cheese

Choose a handful of serrano or jalapeño chilies, or a combination, depending on your taste. Seeding peppers will make them less hot. In a hot skillet, toast and blacken chili skins and let them cool. Place in an attractive container with two-parts Maggi sauce to one-part lemon juice, and let stand for two weeks. Serve over goat cheese.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Emilia’s Wonderful Chilies, Baked Noonday Onions, and Queso Paquitos with Salsita Verde.

Baked Noonday Onions

Noonday is the name of the town in East Texas where these come from, but any other sweet onion will do.

Sweet onions
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Herbs de Provence

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Clean onions, and shave bottoms so they stand upright. Place in a Dutch oven, or Tajine, and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs de Provence. Bake one-and-a-half hours.

Queso Paquitos with Salsita Verde

In Spanish, adding “ito” or “ita” to the end of a word means “little;” it is also a term of endearment. A paquito is a little package, and a salsita is a little sauce.

 8        sheets 12-by-8-inch phyllo dough, thawed
 4        tablespoons melted butter
 1 1/2  cups crumbled queso blanco with chilies and epazote, or plain queso blanco, or queso fresco, available from the Mozzarella Company
 6        sprigs cilantro, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a work surface by placing stack of phyllo off to one side covered with a damp dishtowel and pouring melted butter into a small bowl nearby. Remove a sheet of phyllo, and lay it on a dry work surface, keeping unused phyllo covered with damp towel. Using a pastry brush, coat single sheet lightly with melted butter, repeat with second and third sheets. Then place fourth sheet on top and gently press out air pockets, using your hands. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut dough into 4-inch squares. Cut queso blanco into 12 pieces and place at an angle in the center of each phyllo square. Fold flaps of phyllo over cheese and place seam side down on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining phyllo and cheese, and brush lightly with remaining butter. Make a tiny slit in the top of each packet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. To serve as an appetizer, spoon a tablespoon of the salsita (see recipe below) on a small plate with two paquitos and a sprig of cilantro.

Salsita Verde
 4-6  tomatillos
 1/4   cup tightly packed cilantro
 1/4   cup chopped onion
 1/2   garlic clove
 1      jalapeo chili, seeded
 1      tablespoon vegetable oil
 1/2   teaspoon lemon juice
         Salt to taste

Remove husks from tomatillos, cut away any blemishes and black spots and rinse with cold water. Cut tomatillos in half, place in a small non-stick saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove tomatillos from water and transfer to a blender, reserving cooking liquid in case salsita needs thinning. Add cilantro, onion, garlic, and jalapeño to blender and process until uniformly smooth.

Heat oil over low heat in a small, non-stick saucepan. Add tomatillo mixture and cook for several minutes, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula to keep from sticking. Salsita will be thick. To thin it, add a few tablespoons of reserved tomatillo cooking liquid, and continue to cook to desired consistency. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and season to taste with salt.

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