Backyard Bites

Melissa and Steve Miller are always up for a party. The vibrant, fun couple is renowned for their energy and enthusiasm when it comes to entertaining. The Millers moved from Fairhope into the close-knit neighborhood of the Oakleigh Garden District a decade ago. Then, in 2008, they built a pool in their backyard. “It has added a whole new element to how we entertain, ” says Melissa, above left.

The Millers’ pool has become a magnet, especially in the summer months. “It is such a cool respite for hot summer afternoons, ” Melissa says. Neighbor and frequent guest Paige Aran says, “My favorite part of living in Oakleigh is the impromptu gatherings that can happen any day of the week. Melissa is always ready for a game of cards and conversation by the pool, and Steve can serve delicious shrimp and oysters with little to no notice. It’s true Oakleigh magic!” Steve is the owner of Fresh Seafood, a distributor to restaurants in Daphne, so Gulf shrimp is always an integral part of the menu at the Millers.

Melissa says their entertaining style and philosophy is simple. It’s all about hospitality and making people feel comfortable and welcome but not necessarily fussed over. “We don’t try to overthink the food with complicated recipes. We stick to grilling basics that please guests of any age.” The following are some of their favorites.

On the Menu

Steve’s Ceviche

The Millers’ house specialty is fresh and fabulous, especially when served up poolside.

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1 pound medium shrimp, peeled
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 bundle fresh cilantro, de-stemmed and finely chopped
juice of 10 limes
salt, to taste

1. Blanch shrimp in boiling water for approximately 1 minute.
2. Chop shrimp into bite-sized pieces. Combine with the remaining ingredients. Season with salt, to taste.
3. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours prior to serving. Serves 6.

Summer Red or White Sangria

Jace Aran takes pleasure in crafting special cocktails for his friends and neighbors. Stir up both versions of this classic Spanish refresher for a party. 

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup Malibu rum
1/4 cup dark rum
2 cups red wine (pinot noir or merlot) or 2 cups white wine (pinot grigio or chardonnay)
fresh fruit (sliced peaches, blackberries, raspberries, sliced strawberries,  whole grapes, sliced apples)
2 cups chilled club soda

1. Melt sugar in hot water to make a simple syrup. Let cool.
2. Combine cooled simple syrup with the two different rums and wines in a glass pitcher. Mix well. Add fresh fruit. Refrigerate until chilled.
3. Before serving, add chilled club soda and stir. Pour in serving glass with or without ice. Garnish the glass with fruit of your choice. Serves 6.

Crab Soup

Lush, crab-laden soup is especially pretty poured into demitasse cups or other small glassware. Serve it warm to room temperature during spring and summer months as a splendid starter. 

2 cans cream of celery soup
2 cups milk
1 pound lump crabmeat
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon Accent seasoning
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons sherry
paprika, to garnish

1. Blend 1 can of the soup and 1 cup of the milk in a blender.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the other can of soup and remaining cup of milk.
3. Gradually combine the mixtures and the crabmeat.
4. Stir in other seasonings and heat soup, but do not boil. Pour into bowls or cups. Sprinkle with paprika to garnish. Serves 8 – 10.

Southwestern Shrimp and Scallop Skewers

The star of this dish is the sauce.

1 pound fresh medium-sized shrimp, peeled
1 pound fresh scallops
Southwestern Special Sauce (see below)

1. Alternate 3 shrimp and 2 scallops on wooden skewers.
2. Grill over hot fire for approximately 4 minutes per side. Serves 6.

Southwestern Special Sauce

The versatile condiment works well with seafood, burgers, steak or grilled chicken. Double the recipe to sauce the skewers and have enough left to slather atop bean burgers. 

1/2 cup sour cream
juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder

1. Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes approximately 3/4 cup.

Creamy Crab Stuffed Peppers

The original recipe for this snappy, spicy starter calls for jalapeños; however, Melissa likes to add in other similarly shaped peppers of varying hues and degrees of hotness to please every palate. 

3/4 stick of butter
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 pound lump crabmeat
12 – 18 jalapeño peppers,  or a variety

1. Melt the butter and the cream cheese together in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the crabmeat.
2. Cut off the tops of the peppers,   and remove the cores and seeds. Reserve the tops.
3. Spoon crab mixture into each pepper.
4. Place each filled pepper upright into a pepper stand. Put the tops back on each and grill for approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Makes 12 – 18 stuffed peppers.

Black Bean and Pepper Jack Burgers

These zesty burgers are a tasty and healthy alternative to beef. 

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup finely grated pepper jack cheese
1 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
sliced avocado
sliced tomato
Southwestern Special Sauce (see page 22) or salsa or ketchup

1. Place oats in blender or food processor and pulse 3 times to roughly chop.
2. Add half the beans and pulse into coarse paste, about 6 pulses.
3. Add the egg, cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt and process to mix well, about 1 minute. Transfer the bean mixture to large bowl.
4. Stir in the remaining beans, cheese, green onions and cilantro.
5. Lightly grease a plate with olive oil. With wet hands, form the bean mixture into patties and transfer to plate. Refrigerate for 10 – 15 minutes to let burgers set.
6. Grill over hot fire for 2 – 3 minutes. Carefully turn. Cook 3 – 5 minutes more.
7. Place on the buns and dress with avocado, tomato and Southwestern Special Sauce, if desired.
Makes 4.

Raspberry Petite Cakes

Paige Aran brought these easy, elegant cakes to a poolside party at the Millers. Serve them as individual cakes for ultra indulgence or halve them, revealing the jewel-toned raspberry filling surprise. 

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup lemon curd, divided (store bought in jelly section of grocery or homemade, see opposite)
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 (6-cake) packages of prepared shortcakes
1 cup of fresh raspberries
4 tablespoons raspberry preserves
fresh raspberries, for topping

1. Beat cream cheese and butter with electric mixer on medium until smooth.
2. Beat in 1/2 cup lemon curd. Add powdered sugar; beat until smooth and fluffy. Set aside.
3. Place cakes, well sides up, on a plate. Divide berries, in a single layer, between wells of 6 cakes.
4. Spoon about 1/2 tablespoon preserves over berries in each well.
5. Spread a layer of remaining lemon curd on the other 6 cakes.
6. Place cakes with lemon curd well side down on top of cakes with raspberries and preserves to create 6 cakes.
7. Frost with cream cheese and lemon curd mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 48 hours.
8. To serve, place fresh raspberries on top. Makes 6 small cakes, serves 6 – 12.

Easy Lemon Curd

1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
zest of 3 lemons
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1. In a microwave-safe bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until smooth.
2. Stir in lemon juice, lemon zest and butter.
3. Cook in the microwave for 1 minute intervals, stirring after each minute until the texture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Makes approximately 2 cups. Lemon curd may be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.

text and styling by Sallye Irvine

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