Julia Sherman is our kind of creative genius. Laidback but with creative energy for days, she released a new cookbook just in time for the holidays called Arty Parties. We caught up with her in her home in Pasadena and chatted about her favorite entertaining tips and why one of them involves pistachio butter.
Have some special things on hand.
Make sure you have enough snacks and hors d’oeuvres on hand. I really rely on whatever kind of cheese or tinned fish I bought on a whim. Or if I have preserved lemons I can use to compile something. Beautiful dried fruit to make a cheese platter look nice. I make dips ahead of time that I always have in the fridge and can easily dress up and garnish and put out on a table. When you greet people with something special it makes them feel like they’re at a party. Because it’s something you wouldn’t do for yourself when you’re sitting down to dinner on a Tuesday night.
Build drinks that can be spiked.
I always make sure I have fancy soda water for making cocktails or spritzes. I think a lot about trying to make non-alcoholic drinks that can then be spiked, instead of the other way around. When you just think about the cocktail first, then you always scramble to accommodate the person who doesn’t drink.
I have a recipe in the book for an elderberry syrup cooler. Elderberry syrup is a great thing to have this time of year anyway, because it’s an immune boosting supplement that you get in the health food store. But it also tastes delicious and has a beautiful color, and a tiny bit goes a long way. So I always have that on hand for not feeling well, but also for when I have a party.
Make some pistachio butter. Yes, pistachio butter.
I think this is turning out to be my favorite dish in the book. It’s such a crowd pleaser. Pistachio butter is really nothing more than pistachios in the food processor with a little bit of neutral oil and salt. But it makes this incredible color, and pistachios have such high fat content, they’re so rich. And it just feels so decadent to make a butter out of such a high end nut. And the pistachio flavor. You’re used to eating pistachios in really small quantities or one at a time, but the flavor’s so intense when you have it spread on toast.
I pan grill the bread and smash it down with another cast iron pan to really get a sear on it. And then I smear the pistachio butter on top and top it with a salad of shredded beet, shredded carrot, and some sliced onion. And then I fry capers and that’s the last thing. And then the dressing is just rice wine vinegar, Dijon, honey, and olive oil.
The pistachio butter keeps in the fridge. It’s such a hit and it’s also quite filling. It can go both ways, if you cut it small, it can be an amuse bouche, and a two bite snack. Or you give everybody a full half of the slice of thick sourdough, that’s a pretty substantial thing to eat. And it’s super colorful.
Even if you don’t have enough pistachios to make the butter, you can also just make the salad and then chop up pistachios and toss that on top, and put that on toast. Or just eat it as a salad, which is delicious.
Involve your guests in your entertaining.
My background is as an artist and that’s the world I’m coming from first. More than from food world. And in that arena, I’m always the one hosting, and I’m always feeding people, and cooking and thinking a lot about how to bring interesting people together, and what sets that experience apart from say, going to a restaurant or ordering in? And Salad for President was built on this idea of marrying the two worlds of cooking and people that are studio practiced artists.
And so I think there’s a lot of natural overlap there. But really, I think the love of cooking that I see in art is really a love of entertaining, and a love of food as a medium for communicating and community, and bringing people together. And also, sort of a laboratory.
What I saw that was really missing in the realm of entertaining books or discourse, was this idea about how to really give a piece of yourself when you’re entertaining and what that looks like. Which is actually not a slick, seamless outcome. Really what I think makes the best parties are when people get to be part of your process. And they feel like there was an opportunity to do something creative. When it feels like they’re in for something unpredictable, or something whimsical, experimental, and they get their hands dirty or contribute something.
Food is a really low stakes arena because food is so relatable. And it’s so ephemeral, and it happens every single day. So you mess something up, but you get to do it again first thing in the morning, you know? The comfort with process is something that comes really naturally to artists.