Small Space, Big Taste
The Loehrs make the most of their petite downtown home, throwing chic dinner parties for close friends and family.
Tissa and Tom Loehr have perfected the art of living large in close quarters. The couple often entertains in their circa-1893 shotgun-style cottage in historic Church Street East. “If it’s done cleverly, there are all sorts of tricks to making small spaces feel big,” Tissa says.
Over the past several decades, the house, once abandoned and in complete disrepair, has been respectfully restored and updated. “It’s a great blend of historic and contemporary,” Tom says. The Loehrs recently removed some of the hall walls to enlarge the two front rooms and now, according to Tom, “the house is wonderfully open.”
Tissa credits her late mother, interior decorator Pattie Hans, who originally renovated the house in the 1970s, with much of the initial work and decor. “My mother was one of the first pioneers bold enough to move down here at the beginning of the renovation renaissance. She had great style and was really ahead of her time,” Tissa says.
A Gulf Coast native, Tissa was born in Mobile and grew up in nearby Pass Christian, Miss. Years ago she moved to California with plans to be a stunt girl. She changed her mind and landed a job as a production assistant working in film and television for a number of years. Eventually, she returned to her roots, trading fast-paced L.A. (Los Angeles) for laid-back L.A. (Lower Alabama). She embarked on a career in real estate, moved into her mother’s former abode and got married. She is now a graphic artist. Tom, originally from Denver, just retired after more than 30 years at Spring Hill College, where he was the chair of the communication arts department. The Loehrs
say they now have more time for travel and for entertaining their diverse group of friends, colleagues and neighbors.
Both agree that one of the best things about their historic house is its setting in a vibrant, close-knit neighborhood. The area really comes to life during Carnival season. “Almost everyone has a party at some point during the last two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday,” Tissa says. The Loehrs host a buffetstyle supper.
The talented hostess has an impressive knack for serving splendid meals from her small, serviceable kitchen. The following are some intriguing international-inspired eats prepared by both Tissa and some of her guests.
On the Menu
Cornish Game Hens a la Provence
Tom’s successor at Spring Hill College, Daniel Garcia, is originally from Peru. He and his wife, Erin O’Connor Garcia, contributed these tasty libations from his native country to the Loehrs’ dinner party. The essential mix is 3 parts Pisco to 1 part lime juice and 1 part simple syrup.
7 1/2 ounces Pisco*
2 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
2 1/2 ounces simple syrup
(Mix 1 part water with 1 part sugar dissolved. This is especially tasty when made with raw cane sugar or even brown sugar instead of white.)
1 egg white
bitters, for garnish
nutmeg, for garnish
1. Pour the first 3 ingredients into a blender. Add just enough ice to double the volume. Blend on high to crush the ice.
2. Add egg white and blend again on high for about a minute. (Drink should be very frothy.)
3. Pour into glasses and dress each drink with a drop or 2 of bitters and some freshly grated nutmeg over the top. Salud!
*The Garcias recommend using Pisco 100 Acholado but say that, in a pinch, when you can’t find Pisco, you can use a clear brandy instead. They recommend Christian Brothers White Frost Brandy, available at ABC stores.
This is another of Daniel's recipes.
1 pound firm, white fish, chopped into small pieces
1/2 pound small to medium scallops
30 - 40 shrimp, cleaned and shelled
1/2 pound oysters
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (Iodized salt can sometimes cause a metallic taste with all the lime juice.)
hot pepper sauce, to taste
paprika, to taste
1. Toss the seafood and vegetables with enough of the fresh lime juice to cover them completely.
2. Add salt to taste. Add more heat with hot pepper sauce or more jalapeños. (The heat will reduce greatly by serving time). A few dashes of paprika (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) at this point add a wonderful twist with some sweetness and earthiness.
3. Cover and refrigerate at least several hours. Overnight is best.
4. Serve with crackers. Serves 8 - 12.
(Note: The Garcias serve the ceviche in traditional Peruvian fashion accompanied by sliced, cooled, boiled potatoes and sweet potatoes.)
This is one of Tissa’s specialties. She was first introduced to it at a dinner party in Los Angeles. “I thought it was the best soup I had ever tasted in my whole life,” she says. This is her easier, incredibly good adaptation.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (Olive oil works fine, too.)
3 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped (Yellow or purple work just as well.)
1/4 cup raisins
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 tablespoons curry powder (Tissa recommends the curry from International Food Pak.)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 cups chicken broth (Tissa uses Knorr Bouillon Cubes to create the broth.)
1 tablespoon canned tomato purée
1/2 cup heavy cream (Tissa says you may omit the cream to make a lighter version.)
1. Melt butter in a heavy pot or kettle over moderate heat until the foam subsides.
2. Stir in the apples, carrots, onion, raisins and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture begins to soften, approximately 10 - 12 minutes.
3. Add curry powder and cook stirring, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring about 2 minutes.
4. Stir in broth and tomato purée. Simmer, covered, 1 hour and 20 minutes.
5. Stir in cream and continue to simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes.
6. In a food processor or blender, carefully purée soup in batches until smooth.
7. Strain soup through a sieve, preferably a chinois. (Tissa says if you don’t have a chinois, line the sieve or colander with cheesecloth. Strain into a pot.)
8. Reheat and serve. Makes approximately 10 cups.
Note: The soup can be made well in advance, and it freezes well.
Cornish Game Hens a la Provence
3/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 Cornish game hens
salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard (Tissa uses Grey Poupon.)
9 sprigs fresh basil
6 - 8 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1. Mix the olive oil and lemon juice together in a gallon-size plastic Ziploc. Place hens into the bag, and marinate for about 3 hours, flipping the bag occasionally to distribute juices.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove hens from the marinade, reserving the marinade.
3. Sprinkle hens inside and out with salt and pepper. Rub mustard evenly over hens. Place 3 basil leaves inside each.
4. Place hens in a baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, combine the reserved marinade, garlic, Herbes de Provence and balsamic vinegar.
6. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Pour marinade over hens. Cook for about 1 hour, basting often until hens are nice and golden brown. Serves 6 (half a hen per person).
Chocolate Bread Pudding
1 (12-inch-long) loaf brioche, cut into 12 slices
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
8 ounces good-quality bittersweet
chocolate, preferably Caillebaut
3 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
12 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Brandy Custard Sauce, see recipe below
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Brush brioche slices with melted butter and toast on both sides in the oven until golden brown.
3. Coarsely chop chocolate, and put the pieces in a small bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of hot water and set aside, allowing the chocolate to melt slowly.
4. Combine cream and milk in a saucepan. Heat almost to a boil.
5. While the cream-milk mixture is heating, whisk sugar and egg yolks together in a large mixing bowl until well blended.
6. Slowly add hot cream, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture into another bowl, and skim off any foam. Slowly pour strained mixture into melted chocolate, whisking constantly. Stir in vanilla and salt.
7. Arrange brioche slices in a 12-by-9-inch baking dish, in two overlapping rows. Pour chocolatemixture over brioche, and loosely lay a piece of plastic wrap over the
dish. Place a smaller dish on top of the plastic wrap, weighting down the brioche to keep it submerged. Let stand until the bread is soaked through, about 1 hour.
8. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
9. Remove the plastic wrap. Cover baking dish with foil, and make a few holes in top to vent.
10. Place the baking pan in a larger pan, and fi ll the larger pan with water so that it reaches two-thirds of the way up the sides of the baking dish. Transfer the pans to
the oven and bake until chocolate liquid has been absorbed and pudding looks glossy, 1 3/4 hours.
11. Cut warm pudding into squares. Serve with Brandy Custard Sauce.
Brandy Custard Sauce
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup of sugar
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup brandy
pinch of salt
1. Fill a large mixing bowl with ice cubes and set aside.
2. In another mixing bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar, and beat until well blended.
3. Combine the cream and milk in a heavy saucepan, and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, and gradually add 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
4. Slowly whisk egg mixture back into the saucepan containing the remaining hot cream, and place pan over medium-low heat. Whisk constantly until cream begins to thicken. (Do not let it boil.)
5. Remove pan from heat, and stir in the brandy and salt. Strain mixture into a small bowl, and cool it quickly by placing that bowl into the bowl with the ice cubes. Serve chilled. Makes about 2 cups.