Sup! Loves Cookbooks: Debi Shawcross- Friends at the Table

Crispy Halibut with Lemony Basil Sauce. That sounds good, huh? I bet you wonder where you can get that, or better yet, make that!

Well, one of the things I love about the web is the community you find here. Honestly, it can be just like a neighborhood– a really great neighborhood.

And just like a neighborhood, there are some neighbors that are just so kind and generous you just gotta cross the street to say ‘hello’ when you see them picking up the newspaper, pruning the roses, or even just standing in the driveway looking befuddled.

Well, Debi Shawcross is one of those neighbors (…no, I don’t mean the befuddled kind).

She is a bright and positive influence on the food blogging community. Always dropping by just when you need it most with a kind word or helpful comment; because blogging is just like real life. Sometimes the simplest things can brighten your day. From a cup of sugar or a reassuring “looks delish”– she is a pleasure to have in our neighborhood. Because neighbors like that possess a generosity that shines through in everything they do. Including parties, especially dinner parties– my favorite kind of party.

Of course, it’s no surprise that Debi would be the kind of neighbor I’d be pleased to know. She’s a chef, cooking instructor, and a cookbook author. In other words, she’s my kind of people! So when she asked if I’d like a copy of her new cookbook, Friends at the Table: The Ultimate Supper Club Cookbook, I was more than happy to have a look at it and let her know what I thought.

Debi ShawcrossNow I get sent a lot of cookbooks, some from celebrity chefs and some from true artists. Some come from people with a marketing hook or some of folks just trying to sell something. But very few come from the heart they way this book does. Which makes it a pleasure to look through.

Its concept is simple. Debi features just the right recipes for dinner parties and offers insights and ideas for entertaining. This is a tried and true concept. Martha Stewart did it to great success in 1982 with her book Entertaining. Many others have done it with less conviction. But like Martha, Debi brings so much of herself to these menus that you feel like a friend at the table.

Of course, I knew someone with Debi’s talents would be a great host, and those talents show themselves in her generous writing style. But what she’s also good at is taking the party planning theme and reimagining it with the classic elements of a supper club. Which makes this book feel modern and relevant.

She starts each section with complete menus– appetizer thru dessert. She’s a genius at bringing seasonal or regional themes to these “supper club” menus without becoming embarrassingly thematic. Which keeps each of her gatherings tasteful and elegant, even the most casual amongst them.

But what really defines this book is the simple (stress relieving) inclusion of grocery lists, plan-ahead steps and other tips for each of the parties she includes. Whether you are just getting your entertaining mojo, or you are an old pro at this– everyone wants to entertain with ease and style. Her well-balanced organization shows us all how to do just that.

There is a ton of inspiration here too. It’s easy to imagine yourself and your friends sitting down together at the table enjoying any one of these menus from beginning to end. But it is also a pleasure to look at this book and enjoy the recipes all on their own. There are quite a few smartly composed salads. Chicken and Succotash Salad with Crisp Won Ton Shells, Citrus Scented Orzo Salad with Fresh Fennel, or the luxe Lobster Salad with Roasted Pepper, Miso Dressing, and Goat Cheese would all make terrific courses but are singular enough to stand alone as a meal in themselves. If you are a seafood lover there will be much to occupy your senses in this book. Chili Rubbed Salmon Grilled on Cedar Planks, Shrimp and Scallop Risotto with Crimini Mushrooms, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Truffle OIl, or Crispy Halibut with Lemony Basil Sauce. Which is the very recipe I chose to kick off halibut season here on the west coast. The winning flavor combinations in these recipes and so many others are sure to impress your guests.

I’ll be honest, if you are an accomplished cook it may seem that there is nothing in this book that is really going to stretch you to your limits. Many of the recipes are familiar or are variations on popular themes. Most of the ingredients can be found at even the most basic of markets. There aren’t too many flavors that would be considered avant-garde or challenging to picky eaters.

And that’s by design because Debi understands entertaining. She knows how to keep everyone at the table happy (and seated). Her secret is in knowing that parties like these are not the time to try out exotic ingredients or new techniques. There are probably better evenings to finally take a stab at sous vide. Instead, Debi uses well-written, straightforward recipes, accompanied by plenty of photos and masterful organizational skills to help you and your friends to the table in style. Proving that these kinds of gatherings can be fun, stress-free and totally delicious.

Which is exactly the kind of evening you would expect from a favorite “neighbor” or dear friend.

halibut and zucchiniCrispy Halibut with Lemony Basil Sauce serves 8 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 1⁄3 c unsalted butter, cut into 1 t chunks
  • 3 T shallot, minced
  • 1 c white wine
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest separated
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1⁄2 c basil leaves, chopped
  • salt & pepper, as needed
  • 4 zucchini, end trimmed
  • 1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
  • 3 1⁄2 oz panko bread crumbs
  • 1⁄2 c milk
  • 8 (6‑oz) halibut steaks
  • canola oil, as needed

For the sauce: In a medium saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until shallots soften a bit, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and lemon zest. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce by one-third. Reduce heat to medium, add the lemon juice, and begin whisking in the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to finish the sauce. Remove from heat and add the tomatoes and basil. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper.

For the zucchini ribbons. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini into very thin pieces. In a large sauté pan bring coconut milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

For the fish. In a food processor pulse panko crumbs into a fine powder and transfer to a plate. In a shallow bowl pour the milk. Season the halibut with salt and pepper. Dip each halibut steak in milk, then into panko crumbs. Press the crumbs onto both sides of fish. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add enough canola oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat oil and then add halibut to the pan. (Be careful to not overcrowed the fish. Wipe out the pan and repeat the searing process in batches, if necessary.) Cook until golden crust forms on the bottom of the fish, about 6 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side an additional 4 to 5 minutes.

To serve: Using tongs, divide the zucchini among plates. Place fish on top of the zucchini and spoon the sauce over the fish.

Photos courtesy of Debi Shawcross and Ron Manville


Greg Henry

Sippity Sup