Dish and Design event explores tips and tricks for summertime entertaining

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

It was a gray late-spring evening Wednesday, but inside Southfield's Great Lakes Culinary Center, The Detroit News’ Dish & Design event was lively with talk of summer home entertaining. 

Design writer Maureen Feighan welcomed the 130-or-so readers to the sold-out event, which had a theme of “Grill, Chill & Till,” and focused on houseplants, setting an interesting table and preparing seasonal food for guests. The second Dish and Design event of 2019, the party began with cuisine from the GLCC’s chef Reva Bell-Constantine including a BLT pasta salad, a grilled Asian broccoli salad and a summer dish of watermelon, feta and mint. 

Plant and greenery expert Kelly Green kicked off the presentations with a look at interesting gardening containers that are manageable and work with indoor and outdoor plants and encouraged even those with a “black thumb” to try some versatile containers. 

“I believe strongly that plants are an essential decorating item,” said Green, who owns Southern Green inside Tootie and Tallulah’s home décor store in Berkley. 

Green recommends using whimsical or statement vases, like the one that looks like a sculpted face (where the plant becomes the “hair”) which she sells in her store. 

She also said those who aren’t very confident in their planting ability should consider air plants. 

Empire chef Aaron Lowen preparing grilled shrimp with grilled corn, tomato salsa and avocado salsa verde.

“I love to decorate with air plants. Air plants are God’s miracle to those of us who just want to arbitrarily put these in places because they don’t require any dirt,” she said. 

Known as the "Houseplant Guru," author Lisa Eldred Steinkopf also gave tips on air plants — silver air plants need less water and more light than the green ones — and the easy-to-manage ZZ plant, which requires little water and can thrive in low light. 

"It's called the ZZ plant because it's name is 'Zamioculcas zamiifolia,'" she said. "So you can say that 20 times or just call it the ZZ plant." 

Steinkopf, who recently published "Grow in the Dark: How to Choose and Care for Low-Light Houseplants," also suggested taking a vintage pickle dish or ashtray and filing it with pebbles and a bit of water. She says if you set your houseplant on top it will help keep it hydrated. 

Tonya Walker and Alva Randall enjoy the demonstration with Kelly Green of 'Southern Green.'

"(The water is) going to evaporate and give your plant lots of humidity," she said. 

To keep plants from looking dull, she says you can shine them up with straight lemon juice, either by rubbing it on the leaves, or squeezing it on a sponge and wiping the plant down. 

Jennifer Schafer of Around the Table specializes creating moods and tablescapes for entertaining with items she has from her home and inexpensive decor items from Anthropologie or Target. 

She says to consider the type of the event when creating a tablescape, whether it be a fun event, to honor someone, family reunion, to heal a group of people, or for those who are gathered to learn something. 

Schafer said if you can't find what you need for your party, consider making it. Like clothing, she says to approach your decor you may your wardrobe, where you have some staples that match up with seasonal items and they come and go.

"Target has some of the best stuff, right, so you don't have to spend a lot of money to just add to some nice pieces for something relatively inexpensive," she said. "I think of it somewhat like I do my clothes ... there are a few pieces you might buy that are really well-made that you keep for a long time, and then there are some things that are more trendy that you're just going to buy for the summer or winter." 

For parties where folks may not already know each other, Schafer suggests making a menu board with a different question or topic to kick off conversation at each course. 

Every good shindig needs food and drink, and Dish and Design had two Metro Detroit chefs on hand to help spark ideas. 

Matt McGrail, executive chef and co-owner at Cork & Gabel, spent a few minutes talking about the history of the building that houses his casual bar and restaurant in Corktown before whipping up a cocktail they serve there called County Cork. 

Heads up!  Kelly Green of 'Southern Green' shows off some her unique plants and arrangements to the delight of the audience.

The floral and citrus-forward drink is made with Slane Irish Whiskey, which Cork & Gabel carries as their featured Irish whiskey. He mixed one and a half ounces of that with three-quarters of an ounce of St. Elder, an elderberry liqueur, a half-ounce of lemon juice, a topper of Fever Tree Ginger Beer and a bit of Angostura Bitters. 

More:Potatoes are living their best life at new Michigan Ave. restaurant Cork & Gabel

For summertime cocktails, McGrail recommends keeping things light with drinks like limoncello or sangria. For the latter, he says to make the day before and let the wine and fruit marinate together on the counter overnight. The day of, add ice and serve. 

Dish and Design was rounded out by a cooking presentation from chef Aaron Lowen of Empire Kitchen & Cocktails, which is on the ground floor of the Scott apartment building in Detroit's Brush Park. 

He showcased a seasonal grilled shrimp skewer with grilled corn and tomato salsa and an avocado salsa verde using tomatillos, which he says are "a Mexican husk tomato." 

"It's summer, almost, sorta," he joked. "This is a summertime, fresh, healthy dish," he said, explaining that it can be served in skewers as he did Wednesday night, or as a entree with rice, or even over a bed of greens as a salad. 

"It's super easy, and you can utilize Michigan produce to make it." 

The evening was also peppered with giveaways for gift certificates for Cork & Gabel and Empire Kitchen & Cocktails, potted plants, books and other items.

Twitter: @melodybaetens