Homespun Elegance

A festive outdoor gathering
Photography by Sara Essex Bradley
Chef Kristen Essig serves cold fried chicken with grilled collard stems and sliced pickled banana peppers.

It was a winter day unique to New Orleans: sunny and warm enough to be outdoors, with just a hint of coolness in the air. Erica Larkin Gaudet and Mitchell Gaudet decided to have a late lunch al fresco at home and invite a few friends along to enjoy the day.

Though their address is technically in New Orleans, their home is located close to Arabi on Bayou Sauvage. The couple rescued what was left of the house that was severely damaged and flooded by Hurricane Katrina. It had been lifted off its 12-foot high pilings. The interior was flooded with over three feet of water. Mitchell and his father undertook the backbreaking work of restoring the house over the course of the next year and a half, and as the house neared completion, the couple loved it so much that they decided to move from their longtime Bywater home to the waterfront house they called “The Camp.” In reality, it’s just a quick 25-minute ride from the center of the city, but it feels like another world.

For the afternoon lunch party, they constructed a makeshift table on the deck by placing old cypress boards on top of two metal bases that came from furniture designer Erica’s studio. Homespun linens became the tablecloth. They pulled benches from the dining room inside the house and set the table with both rustic and refined elements. Twinkling lights were strung overhead, complementing the candlelight on the table as dusk fell. Cozy warm throws were placed on the back of each person’s seat, to be at hand when the air cooled as the sun went down. A fire pit was improvised from a discarded crucible Mitchell uses for the art he creates from glass making at his newly relocated Studio Inferno.

The couple served cocktails on an adjacent deck made comfy with furry pillows and throws tossed on the outdoor sectional couch. The menu was engineered, designed, delivered and prepared by restaurateurs and friends Michael Stoltzfus, chef/owner of Coquette; and Kristen Essig, executive chef at Meauxbar and soon-to-be opened Cavan. They created everything from cocktails and nibbles, to oysters on the grill, to the main course to dessert, and hot toddies by the fire pit.

The chef couple brought everything to the party; the chicken had been already cooked, and the specialty cocktails, crudités and oysters and dessert were easily assembled and prepared in situ. Since the main course was already cooked, making cocktails and starters turned the kitchen into another party area before everyone made their way outdoors for cocktails and starters, and the late afternoon lunch.

After sunset and toddies by the fire pit, guests meandered back to the dinner table for dessert. The guys threw fishing lines off the deck. A tray of bottles for after dinner drinks was brought out, and the party continued on as the candles burned low and a sprinkling of stars and a perfect crescent moon decorated the winter night sky.

Furry throws and pillows from West Elm


Negroni Sbagliato

2 ounces Cocchi Americano sweet vermouth
2 ounces Campari
2 ounces prosecco
1 orange zest twist
In a rocks glass, combine the sweet vermouth with the Campari over ice. Stir to combine. Top with the prosecco, stir gently and garnish with an orange twist.  Serves 1. Courtesy of Ashley Danella, bar manager at Coquette

Persimmon Mustard

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup persimmon puree:  (from 2 persimmons; persimmons should be very ripe, so ripe you can crush them in your hand. Gently peel and remove stem and seed. Place in blender and puree till smooth)
In a large mason jar with a screw top lid, combine all of the ingredients, excluding the persimmon puree. Place lid on jar and allow the seeds to sit at room temperature for 3 days.  
Place the soaked mustard seeds, the soaking liquid and the persimmon puree into a blender. Puree till the consistency is almost smooth. Refrigerate to store, can be safely stored for 1 month under refrigeration. Serve room temperature so the persimmon flavor is more forward. Yields 1 cup

Table bases by Erica Larkin Gaudet; throws from West Elm; wooden spheres on table from West Elm

5 tips for winter entertaining outdoors

Be spontaneous! Let the good weather inspire the day.
Keep the menu home-style: Fried chicken prepared ahead of time and served room-temperature is ideal.
Provide throws and shawls in case guests get chilly.
Light up the fire pit and serve hot toddies.
Bring the inside outside with chairs, dishes and candles.

Cold Fried Chicken

2 chickens, each cut into 8 pieces (you can have your butcher do this for you)
1 cup salt
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
4 quarts cold water
2 cups buttemilk
In a large mixing bowl make your brine by combing the salt, sugar, crushed red pepper and cold water. Whisk till the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the chicken and brine for 30 minutes and up to four hours. Remove chicken from brine, discard brine and transfer chicken to a mixing bowl. Toss the brined chicken with the buttermilk and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Prepare dredge, per instructions below:

Chicken Dredge
6 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground
black pepper
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Dredge chicken in seasoned flour and transfer to a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack. Allow to sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.  

To fry
Canola Oil, as needed, depending on pot size
Preheat oil to 350 degrees, using a thermometer to monitor the temperature.
Add dredged chicken, working in batches if necessary, and cook for 10-12 minutes. Times will vary, depending on the size of your chicken. Be sure to use a thermometer, internal temperature of chicken should be at least 165 degrees.  Transfer cooked chicken to a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack, season well with salt and pepper.
The chicken can be prepared up to two hours in advance and left at room temperature before serving, if preparing more than two hours in advance refrigerate once the chicken is cool. Pull the chicken to room temperature 1 hour before serving. Serves 8-10

Honey and bay leaf mousse with bourbon, raisins, apple butter and brown butter oats served in vintage rocks glasses

Honey Mousse

¾ cup wildflower honey, preferably wild, preferably raw
6 eggs, separated
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 teaspoons water
In a small bowl dissolve the gelatin in the water, set to the
side to bloom.
Fill a medium-sized saucepot with 2-3 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Select a mixing bowl that will fit on top.  In the mixing bowl whisk together the honey and egg yolks. Place the bowl over the simmering water. Whisking constantly, so as not to scramble the eggs, cook the yolks and honey until warm to the touch. If needed, reduce the heat on the pot, if the water begins to boil, you want the water to just simmer.
Place ¾ of the hot honey/egg yolk mix in the work bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Turn the mixer on medium speed. Carefully pour the remaining hot honey/egg yolk mix over the bloomed gelatin, mixing well to dissolve the gelatin. Once the gelatin is dissolved, slowly add to the honey/egg yolk mix in the stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed till room temperature, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.  
Whip the egg whites, using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, until medium peaks form. Gently fold the whipped whites into the cool honey/yolk mix.
Whip the heavy cream, using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, until medium peaks form. Gently fold into the honey/yolk/white mix. Transfer the honey mousse to an airtight container and allow to set for 2 hours. To serve, place a dollop of mousse in a small serving dish. Serves 8-10

Satsuma, Dill and Horseradish Grilled Oysters

24-30 oysters, shucked
½ pound soft butter
12 Satsumas, zested then juiced, keep separate
1 tablespoon kosher salt
(Kristen prefers Diamond Crystal, Michael prefers Morton’s)
1 bunch fresh dill
2 inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 large bunch of parsley, cilantro or shiso (whatever
you prefer)
In a small saucepot, reduce the Satsuma juice by ¾. Once the juice is reduced, add the Satsuma zest and then chill the zest/juice mix till cold. Once cold, gently fold the zest/juice mix into the softened butter with the salt.  
Preheat your grill to 400-500 degrees, let her rip. When ready to grill, place 1-1 ½ teaspoons of the Satsuma butter on top of the raw, shucked oyster. Place the oyster, in its shell on the smoking hot grill and cook till butter is melted and bubbling and the lips on the oyster just begin to curl. Using tongs, carefully transfer the hot oysters to your herb covered platter.  The herbs will act as a stabilizer for the shells, you don’t want to loose all that delicious butter, as well as release their fragrance when the hot shells hit them. Working quickly, using a microplane grater, grate the horseradish onto the hot oysters and finish with fresh dill sprigs. Serve immediately. Yields enough for 24-30 oysters

 Amari hot toddy in copper mugs from West Elm.

Hot Toddy Amari

2 ounces Cynar
1/2 ounce lemon-demerara
1:1 simple syrup
4 ounces boiling water
Orange zest
Cinnamon stick or mint sprig.
Pour 2 ounces of Cynar and 1/2 ounce lemon simple syrup in Irish coffee glass or copper mug. Slowly pour 4 ounces boiling water into mixture, stirring to incorporate all ingredients. Zest orange on top of the cocktail and garnish with cinnamon stick or mint sprig
For lemon-demerara syrup: Using a Y-peeler, peel 2 large lemons, being careful to get as little pith as possible. In a non-reactive container, add 1 cup demerara sugar and lemon peels. Gently muddle lemon peels releasing the lemon oils into the sugar. Cover and let sit for 6 hours in a cool dark place. Remove lid and pour 1 cup of boiling water into the sugar oleo-sachurum and whisk till sugar is completely dissolved. Remove lemon peels and store simple syrup in cool, dark place for up to one week. Serves 1





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