In April during Freret Fest, my dear friend Jenelle threw a fabulous, casual afternoon gathering to celebrate her husband Neal’s birthday. She had been traveling and in an effort to streamline the planning, she outsourced the cooking to one of everyone’s favorite gas station chicken joints, McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin’ on Broad Street in Mid-City. The fried chicken and wings were a huge hit and paired perfectly with the champagne many of us were enjoying throughout the festivities, as well as with the beer and cocktails preferred by other guests. The sides and snacks were rounded out with everything from classic Southern offerings, such as pimento cheese spread, to elegant fare, including a to-die-for shrimp ceviche from a friend who works in catering at Brennan’s. While I’m not sure if my friend Jenelle has read it, her soirée reminded me of one of the parties outlined by author, journalist, entertaining doyenne and most-of-the-time New Orleanian Julia Reed in her 2016 tome, “Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long.” I’m a huge fan of Reed’s idea of serving Popeye’s with champagne and have employed this suggestion many times at my own parties. The book has become a go-to when I’m looking for inspiration, so I was thrilled when I learned that Reed, who these days splits her time between the Crescent City and her new second home dubbed the Delta Folly in Mississippi, had another book centering on New Orleans scheduled to release in May.
“Julia Reed’s New Orleans: Food, Fun and Field Trips for Letting the Good Times Roll,” combines Reed’s signature humor, festive spirit and high-low style, with her journalistic prowess and culinary cunning. Plus, it includes a cast of celebrity chefs and other food-, design- and entertaining-world friends, as well as envy-inducing photos by another talented New Orleanian, photographer Paul Costello (disclosure: Costello is a contributor to this issue). While the book feels in many ways like an extension, or sequel, to the former work, much like her 2007 memoir, “The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story,” it also serves as a love letter to this city Reed loves and, naturally, its people. Oh and also, on top of everything else, there are playlists, restaurant recommendations, tips galore and cocktails, cocktails, cocktails.
If you are looking for entertaining inspiration you’ll want to get this new volume in your hot little hands.
Julia Reed’s Cheese Thumbprint Wafers with Hot Pepper Jelly
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup hot pepper jelly, red or green
There is almost no combination of sharp cheese and flour and butter that I don’t like, especially as an hors d’oeuvre with a cocktail. This particular cheese wafer is enlivened with a dab of pepper jelly and is a cinch to make.
Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse briefly to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add the cheeses and blend until the dough begins to form a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and gather it into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to two days. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, using a scant tablespoon of dough for each one, and place 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and press your thumb into the top of each ball to create an indentation. Place about ½ teaspoon of jelly into each indentation and return the sheet to the oven.
Bake until lightlybrowned, 6 to 8 more minutes. Makes about 20 wafers.
Recipe from “Julia Reed’s New Orleans: Food, Fun and Field Trips for Letting the Good Times Roll.”