What’s Old is New
Bridging historic and contemporary is the secret to chic entertaining for one Mobile couple.
ABOVE Day Peake brings his court bouillon to the table, where his parents, husband Jason McKenzie, cousin Allison Gamble and friends are beginning to gather.
On a high hill in the heart of Spring Hill sits a 1930s colonial-style gem of a home with tall white columns and a long family history to match. The original brick drive heads straight up an allée of Southern camellias to the front door of Hill House where, on any given night, owners Day Peake and Jason McKenzie are poised to welcome guests. It took a modern couple with a passion for entertaining to thoroughly bring this stately manse into a new era of chic entertaining.
Jason and Day have a knack for mixing traditional Southern elements with modern vibes. The backdrop of Hill House makes a stately palette for any event, with traditional architecture and furnishings. Day is quick to pull out his family china and silver for dinners with friends. The elegant formal gardens, complete with camellias and azaleas of every variety, are often the backdrop for garden dinners and outdoor movie nights. At the same time, the pair has perfected the new era of entertaining where guests feel totally at home, often bringing the kids and making themselves comfortable. There are not many hosts that can master both sides of the coin.
Before the couple met, they admit they both enjoyed playing host. However, the two together have become an entertaining power couple. When they bought Hill House in 2010, they christened it with Day’s 30th birthday party: a James Bond-themed fete that was a hit with both of their separate groups of friends, many of whom met for the first time that night. After that, the parties just began to fall into place. “Within a couple months we had some good friends get married at the house! Then a few months later a cousin wed there as well. We really love sharing the place with everyone,” Jason says. Parties big and small are a regular occurrence. They’ve been known to throw intimate get-togethers, regular supper club gatherings, weddings, birthday parties, New Year’s Eve galas, crawfish boils and festivities of all kinds over the years. And they’re not slowing down, from the looks of it.
ABOVE Guests Eric Criteser, Leigh Rendfrey, Andy Freeman, Bradley Sanders and Susan Mareno giggle with their newest addition, baby Marie Mareno (hidden).
In order to execute seamless entertaining, you need a strong team with a clear division of duties. Day plays the chef by developing his own recipes, often shopping for ingredients daily and experimenting with international cuisines. Everything is made from scratch. Jason sets the scene, and as the new executive director for the Joe Jefferson Players, putting on a show comes naturally. Tablescapes, centerpieces, bar setups and more are just plain fun for the former banker turned professional actor.
Day and Jason recently hosted a small garden party under the oak tree in the home’s formal side garden and invited MB along. Day knew he wanted to serve his guests fresh Gulf seafood, so he called his good friend Tripp Atkins at Southern Fish and Oyster, as he often does, to find out what was freshest. “The menu just evolved from there,” explains Day. The dining room table was carried to the yard and guests sipped cocktails while the sun set over Spring Hill. A pretty magical evening can be had with the right house, the right hosts and a good cocktail in hand. It is clear that this duo makes a good team in life, love and, more specifically, entertaining.
Slippery Otter Cocktail
“A small group of friends traveled to the Bahamas in 2009. We were drinking mango and coconut rum cocktails at the resort when we saw a man dancing and all laughed. We determined that his ‘dance moves’ looked like he was trying to hold onto something that was slipping out of his hands, and his legs were all over the place. Day said, ‘It’s a slippery otter!’ We tweaked it a little and made it our own, and we’ve never gone a summer without serving them since!” - Jason McKenzie
2 parts coconut rum
2 parts mango juice
1 part dark rum
mint sprig and lime wedge, for garnish
1. Mix first three ingredients in a rocks glass over ice. Add a splash of tonic. Garnish with lime wedge and a sprig of mint. Serves 1. Recipe can be made by the batch and served in a pitcher.
Croydon Road Log
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chopped herb such as dill, rosemary or thyme
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1. Combine the first four ingredients in a stand mixer. Spread into a rectangular shape in plastic wrap and roll up into a log. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours for flavors to marry.
2. Melt butter in small saucepan with sugar, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Once incorporated, add nuts and warm through. Allow to cool for five minutes before pouring over cheese log. Serve with crackers. Serves 8 - 10.
Shaved Asparagus Salad
1 bunch large asparagus spears
Creamy Herb Dressing (see below)
blanched almonds, toasted
1. Chop tips off asparagus and reserve for garnish. Shave raw stalks of asparagus into long ribbons with vegetable peeler. Set aside.
2. Layer several leaves of bibb lettuce on a plate. Toss asparagus ribbons with dressing and feta. Nest asparagus ribbons in the middle of lettuce and top with toasted almonds and asparagus tips. Serves 4.
Creamy Herb Dressing
1 shallot, diced
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon fennel powder
1/2 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
2 teaspoons honey
1. Place diced shallot in a mason jar. Add vinegar and salt and let sit for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, close lid and shake to combine. Adjust salt, if needed, and add freshly ground black pepper. Dressing can be made in advance and refrigerated.
Redfish Court Bouillon
1 8 - 10 pound redfish, cleaned and cut into two fillets (snapper is a good substitute)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
1 pound large shrimp, shells reserved
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 onions, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
6 bay leaves
1 24-ounce can whole tomatoes
4 cups shrimp stock
1 pint oysters
sliced scallions, for garnish
cooked white rice, for serving
homemade hot sauce, optional (recipe below)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place fish fillets in a roasting pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Peel shrimp and use peels to either make a shrimp stock or customize a store-bought fish stock by steeping the peels in the stock for 10 minutes. Keep warm on stove while assembling the roux.
2. Pour oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and stir in flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the roux becomes a deep brown color. Add diced onions and cook until translucent. Add the peppers, celery, garlic, spices and bay leaves and cook 5 - 10 minutes until vegetables soften. Add canned tomatoes (with liquid) and stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning. The sauce can be made to this point and refrigerated or frozen for future use. Return sauce to a simmer before continuing with recipe.
3. Pour warm sauce over fish in roasting pan, cover with foil and bake for 45 - 55 minutes. Check fish doneness to ensure it is nearly cooked through. Remove foil, scatter shrimp and oysters over fish and return to oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
4. Carefully transfer whole fish fillets on top of a bed of white rice. Cover with shrimp and oysters and drizzle sauce on top. Garnish with diced scallions and hot sauce. Serves 8 - 10.
1 pound red jalapeño chiles
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1. Pulse chiles and kosher salt in a food processor until a coarse puree forms. Transfer to a 1-quart glass jar, loosely screw lid and stand at room temperature for 12 hours to ferment slightly.
2. Stir in vinegar and loosely screw on the lid. Let mixture stand at room temperature for 7 days.
3. Puree mixture in blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a clean glass bottle.
4. Keep refrigerated. It can be stored for up to 4 months. Shake before serving as the sauce may separate. Makes 2 1/2 cups.
This is a regular on Day’s dinner menus, and the fruit varies by the season.
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups assorted berries, such as raspberries and blackberries
powdered sugar, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and set rack in lower third of oven. Place 12-inch cast-iron skillet in oven as it preheats.
2. Whisk first four ingredients in bowl for one minute. Add flour and mix to combine. Add salt, dairy and zest to the bowl and whisk until incorporated.
3. Remove hot skillet from oven. Melt butter and pour in batter. Spread berries evenly into batter and return to oven. Bake 18 - 22 minutes until golden brown, rotating once halfway through cooking. Let cool on rack for 20 minutes. It is best served warm or at room temperature the day it is made.
4. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Serves 8 - 10.