Everything about Mary Elizabeth Kimbrough is colorful and creative — her life, her art and her entertaining style. The lifelong artist, a full-time lecturer at Bishop State Community College, is also an active blogger (mekonline.blogspot.com). She lives in a hip little hacienda in Midtown, surrounded by her vibrant art. Mary Elizabeth’s walls are covered with her bold paintings, and her decorative, yet functional, ceramic pieces, are always loaded with delicious fare for friends and family.
Her many passions marry well. “Making pottery is very much like cooking. You use heat to transform materials into something else, ” she says. “The two complement each other.” The skilled hostess’s favorite subject matters, flowers and fruit, along with fabulous recipes and her unique serving pieces, add punch to her festive get-togethers.
“Given the funds and the time, I would have at least one dinner party per week, ” she says. Crafting great, simple food from local ingredients (when possible) is Mary Elizabeth’s signature. “The Cathedral Square market and the produce from Grow Alabama are inspirations for me.”
She turns each plate and platter into an appealing work of edible art. “The look and the texture are every bit as important as the taste for me, ” Mary Elizabeth says. She inherited her intense interests in cooking and art from her parents, Kay and Billy Kimbrough. “My home is perfect for entertaining, and I think of it as a stage set for dinner parties. My parents threw great ones when I was growing up, and they taught me well!”
A pretty libation is a memorable and welcoming note. This favorite drink is delicious with or without alcohol.
2 pounds cherries, stems removed
juice of 4 lemons, freshly squeezed
1 cup sugar, or more to taste
1. Without removing pits, place cherries in blender. Whiz them until they are smashed and some of the pits are coarsely chopped.
2. Put them in a strainer or sieve and press hard, extracting as much juice/puree as possible. Discard the solids.
3. Put the cherry mixture in a pitcher, and stir in the freshly squeezed juice. Add sugar, stirring to combine.
4. This mixture will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, add water or sparkling water to taste. Serves approximately 10 – 12.
Note: To make cocktails, stir in a couple of splashes of vodka or gin, and garnish with a sprig of mint or slice of lemon.
Open-Faced Cucumber Sandwiches
These easy, elegant classics act as a lovely starter.
14 slices white bread, cut into circles
cream cheese, softened
fresh basil, some chopped and some leaves for garnish
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1. Several hours before serving, peel and slice the cucumbers. Slice them into thin crescents and place on paper towels.
2. Sprinkle crescents lightly with salt.
3. Just before ready to serve, spread cream cheese on bread rounds. Sprinkle with chopped basil.
4. Top with cucumbers, sprinkle with seasoned salt, and garnish with basil leaves, if desired. Serves 6 – 8.
Bacon Cheddar Deviled Eggs
These sumptuous stuffed eggs are devilishly delicious.
12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon honey mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 strips bacon, cooked
2 tablespoons cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1. Halve eggs lengthwise.
2. Spoon yolks out into a bowl. Reserve whites. Mash yolks with a fork. Add mayonnaise, honey mustard, salt and pepper. Crumble 6 of the slices of bacon. Fold in the crumbled bacon and all of the cheese.
3. Fill each egg white half with yolk mixture. Top with a piece of bacon.
4. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 12.
This exceptionally rich, tasty tomato pie is perfect served hot or cold.
9-inch pie shell, baked
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tomatoes, sliced
salt and pepper
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
4 ounces yellow cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread mustard on pie shell. Layer sliced tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cheddar cheeses in the pie shell, ending with cheese.
3. Mix together mayonnaise and Parmesan. Spread on top of pie.
4. Bake for about 20 minutes or until bubbly. Let cool. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6.
Salad with Fried Okra Croutons
This salad is a surefire crowd-pleaser.
8 cups salad greens
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup Gorgonzola, small chunks
fried okra (see below)
Easy Ranch Dressing (see bottom)
Mix first four ingredients together. Top with fried okra and dressing. Serves 8.
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 pounds fresh okra, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1. Heat oil in deep fryer. (Mary Elizabeth uses a classic Fry Baby.)
2. Combine cornmeal and panko breadcrumbs.
3. Roll okra in egg, then in the combined cornmeal and panko mixture.
4. Fry okra for about 2 minutes or until golden brown.
5. Place on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Easy Ranch Dressing
1 cup milk
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons of Hidden Valley Ranch mix
In a bowl, combine 1 cup milk and 1 cup mayonnaise with 3 tablespoons of Hidden Valley Ranch mix. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate. Chill 30 minutes to thicken. Stir before serving. Stays fresh 3 – 4 weeks.
Mary Elizabeth’s Guacamole
The artist-cook’s secret ingredient, Pimentón de la Vera, gives her guacamole an intriguing smoky flavor.
3 ripe avocadoes
juice of 1 lime
a shake of cumin
a pinch of salt
a shake of Pimentón de la Vera, optional but tasty (available at specialty grocery stores)
1 bag of corn chips
Mash first 5 ingredients together with a mortar and pestle. Serve with corn chips. Serves approximately 6.
Fresh Peach Ice Cream
Mary Elizabeth pairs homemade peach ice cream with sparkling Prosecco for a fabulous finale. Embellish with gingersnaps for extra fun!
6 ripe freestone peaches
2/3 cups brown sugar
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups milk (Mary Elizabeth uses organic 2 percent milk)
gingersnaps, to garnish
1. Peel peaches and place in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until they are chopped, but not pureed.
2. Place peaches in a nonreactive bowl with brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and vanilla. Toss to coat.
3. Cover and let sit for about 2 hours.
4. To make ice cream, combine peach mixture and milk in an ice cream maker. (This usually takes about 30 minutes.) Garnish with gingersnaps. Serves approximately 10.