Hostess with the Most-est

In her new cookbook Da Cajn Critter, local hostess Pamela Lyles shares tips to keep guests smiling.

Photographed by Eugenia Uhl

In February 1999, upon spending their first Mardi Gras at home on the St. Charles Avenue parade route, Pamela Lyles and her family christened their home “Hotel Lyles.” From that year on, houseguests from near and far seemed to flock like little “critters” to Hotel Lyles where family, friends, food and fun were always served with a smile. For many, consecutive weekends of impromptu entertaining might seem daunting — not to mention exhausting. But for Lyles, creating in the kitchen has always been a “freeing” experience. As she explains in her debut cookbook, Da Cajn Critter, “Cooking shouldn’t be stressful or a chore but an experience that is fun, creative and relaxing, and most of all, tastes good!” With that in mind, experience the joy of effortless entertaining with these easy recipes for homemade Mardi Gras munchies and libations. Each recipe can be pre-prepared the night before for lots of taste with little time or headache.

Hot Spinach Balls

2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach
4 large eggs
1 cup minced onion
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) melted margarine or butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix

Cook the spinach according to the package directions; drain, and squeeze dry. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the spinach, onion, cheese, margarine or butter, salt, thyme, pepper and nutmeg, and mix well. Stir in the stuffing mix. Let stand for 20 minutes. Shape the mixture into balls using a rounded teaspoon of the mixture for each ball. Arrange on an ungreased baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake and serve. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, and serve hot. Makes about 50 balls.

Spicy Cajun Martini
1 750-milliliter bottle gin or vodka
1/2 cup dry white vermouth
1 fresh jalapeño, cut in half and seeded
Ice

Pickled jalapeños, olives and cocktail onions, for garnish
Pour 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the liquor out of the bottle, and reserve for another use. Add the vermouth and the fresh jalapeño to the liquor remaining in the bottle. Let stand for 8 to 10 hours. Strain the liquor into another bottle. Prepare your favorite martini recipe with the jalapeño-infused liquor. Garnish each glass with a rinsed pickled jalapeño, an olive and an onion on a wooden pick. Makes 15 servings.

Recipes from Da Cajn Critter: The Lifestyles, the Rules, and Makin’ Groceries by Pamela D. Lyles

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