A pinch of this, a dash of that

Consistency is the hobgoblin of small recipes, or so author Jane Lily Schotz seems to say in the "Notes" section of her cookbook Lilly for Company: Austin Casual Menus for Palm and Plate, which sagely suggests embracing the variance in heat between one chile pepper and another; the art of cooking lies in not sweating the teaspoons, but tasting the food to see how much pepper is necessary.

Lilly for Company is a collection of recipes taken from Schotz's Austin restaurant, Lilly & Co., which closed in 1996. It is unusual in that it is illustrated with elegant black and white photos of fruits and vegetables, and that it is organized by serving style and menu: Finger, fork, and knife menus, and spoon food (soups).

We didn't miss the plated food shots, and the menus make it a useful tool for entertaining - and there are no rules, one can always mix and match.

The menus range from Heavy Cocktail Buffet for 40 to 45 to Vegetarian Feast for 8. In the midst of a warm spell - what are seasons to San Antonio? - we tried the Summer Dinner for 10, which included crab cakes with spicy remoulade, herbed potatoes, salad with balsamic-soy-tahini dressing, and a chocolate walnut tart.

   Lilly For Company:
Austin casual menus for palm and plate

By Jane Lilly Schotz
$16.95, 112 pages
ISBN 0-9763518-0-0

Crab cakes may sound high-tone, but the recipe was throw-it-all-in-a-bowl simple. There were only five of us, so we cut the recipe in half, which worked well and yielded 10 delicious cakes, flaky and rich, tasting of savory green onion and lemon. We forgot to halve the new potatoes and, boy, were we glad: Boiled and then slathered in butter, lemon, garlic, dill, tarragon, thyme, basil, cayenne, kosher salt, and black pepper, the potatoes were tender and, thanks to the cayenne, slightly spicy. The lemon added a subtle high note over the herbs.

The salad dressing, a deceptively simple blend, was the big surprise. One might not think to throw tahini into this menu, but it worked: The balsamic vinegar balanced out the salt of the soy, while the tahini cut the brightness of the vinegar, for a nutty, slightly Asian flavor.

As for the chocolate walnut tart, it was Wednesday and school night for all, so we decided to save it for another dinner party. Considering the other recipes were keepers, one can only imagine it will be wonderful, and look forward to the opportunity.

By Susan Pagani


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