By Ann Cipperly

Whether it is a friend’s birthday, a bridal luncheon, bridge party, baby shower or getting friends together to savor summer while the garden is in bloom, plan an easy menu featuring seasonal favorites. To avoid spending all day in the kitchen, rely on make-ahead recipes.  The event is nearly stress-free with the food prepared and waiting in the refrigerator to simply reheat.

I learned the hard way that it is better to have the food prepared ahead after hosting a bridal brunch and a dinner party where the food took longer to cook than expected.  At the brunch, one of the hostesses brought a big pan of grits to cook at my house. The guests ate the appetizers and drank the champagne punch. The grits were still soupy, and people were looking at their watches.

On another occasion years ago, I decided at the last minute to host a dinner party for visitors from England. It was during the week with a lot going on, so I didn’t get much cooked ahead except for dessert. Having the oven overloaded caused every dish to take much longer. The guests filled up on appetizers and barely felt like trying the special dessert.

My husband Don teases me that my problem with having everything prepared ahead is that I sometimes forget to serve a dish. Once when we were having an anniversary party for my parents in our home, I had cooked and froze dishes weeks ahead. I had put most of the food out but was waiting closer to when guests arrived to remove the peppermint layered brownies from the refrigerator.

Well, you can probably guess that after everyone left, I opened the refrigerator to put food away and saw two large trays of brownies. I had over 200 brownies that had already been frozen.

Having the food prepared ahead leaves time to deal with other things that can occur, such as the time our 14 foot Christmas tree fell two days before a bridal luncheon. Then there was that time I baked apple pies on the lower rack of the oven for the first time, which was too hot, causing the apples to boil out and burn. The fire alarm went off, but at least the fire department didn’t show up.

I think the worst thing to deal with happened when a tornado went over our house 30 minutes before a party. We had 12 trees fall around our house and lost power, but people didn’t know and came anyway, climbing over the trees. We don’t have a lot of trees around our current house and had some tall ones nearby removed last year, but we can’t do anything about the weather.

Whatever happens, the best thing to do is relax, be thankful everyone is fine and then laugh.

Look over the following recipes from some of Opelika’s best cooks and plan a menu for a summer luncheon, shower or a bridge party.  Prepare the food a day or more ahead.

Have the house cleaned days ahead, and set the table a day or two ahead, so there is little to do on the day of the event. Bring in a bouquet of flowers from the garden.  Pour a glass of iced tea to sip and relax.

Offering hospitality in the summer can be carefree and enjoyable. Just be sure to check the refrigerator before everyone arrives, don’t overload the oven, and oh, yeah, watch the weather report!

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at


Almond Macaroons
Dena Haynes
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond flavoring
1/4 tsp. baking powder
12 soda crackers, crushed
1/2 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped pecans
Cognac, optional
Whipped cream and cherries to garnish
Beat egg whites; add sugar very gradually. Add almond flavoring, baking powder and crumbled crackers; mix well. Fold in dates and pecans.
Bake in muffin tin lined with paper cups at 350 degrees for 30 minutes; reduce oven to 300 degrees for an additional 10 minutes.
Store in paper cups until ready to serve. If desired, pour 1 tsp. cognac over top of each. Garnish with whipped cream and cherry.

Miniature Tomato Sandwiches
Ginelle Weissinger
These are great for showers and bridge.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tsp. chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. pepper, divided
1 baguette
4 plum tomatoes, sliced
Stir together, mayonnaise, cream cheese, basil, 1/8 tsp. salt and pepper. Cover and chill 8 hours, if desired.
Cut baguette into 16 slices. Spread cheese mixture on slices. Top with tomato slices and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper.
Mama’s Lemonade Tea
Vondalyn Hall
5 cups water
3 family size tea bags
6-oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 to 1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. almond extract, optional 
Lemon slices
Place 5 cups water and family size teabags in a large container and
microwave on high for 10 minutes.  Remove teabags. Add
frozen lemonade concentrate and sugar to the tea mixture.  Stir until sugar is dissolved and concentrate is completely blended.
Pour into a 64-oz. pitcher and add as much water as needed to fill the container. Add almond extract, if desired.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Add lemon slices just before serving.
Chicken Curry Salad
Cathy Dozier
This is a wonderful addition to a luncheon or shower menu.
1/2 cup mayonnaise (can use low fat)
2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. grated onion
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped
20 oz. drained, chopped chunk pineapple
3 cups cubed, cooked chicken
1 1/2 cups chopped apples
1 1/2 cups green grapes, sliced in half
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
Combine mayonnaise, curry powder, salt and onion. Gently fold in whipped cream.  Mix the chunky ingredients. Fold into the curry sauce ingredients. Chill two hours before serving.

Summer Chicken and Rice Salad
Jennifer Jones
May serve in a whole tomato or on a bed of mixed greens. If serving on greens, garnish with grape or cherry tomatoes.
1/4 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chicken, cooked and cubed
2 cups chicken flavored rice (Rice-A-Roni)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup stuffed olives
1/2 cup bell pepper, diced
Whole tomatoes, optional
Mixed greens
Marinate mushrooms in lemon juice, thyme, garlic and olive oil for two hours. Cook chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni in water as directed on package, but do not add butter. Keep rice warm.
Mix chicken, rice and remaining ingredients. Toss and chill. May need to add mayonnaise before serving if it appears too dry. For variety, add artichokes.

Elegant Shrimp and Artichokes
Bobbie Umbach
1½ lb. medium shrimp
10 oz. pkg. frozen artichoke hearts (can use canned)
6 1/2 Tbsp. butter
4 1/2 Tbsp. flour
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pepper to taste
1/4 lb. or more mushrooms, sliced thick
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cooked rice
Cook shrimp just until pink. Peel and devein. Steam, drain and coarsely chop artichoke hearts.
Make a white sauce by melting butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add flour and stir. Slowly add milk and then cream, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and bring to room temperature.
Add Worcestershire sauce, sherry, salt and pepper, stirring until well combined.
In a greased 3-quart casserole, layer artichoke hearts, shrimp and mushrooms. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Pour white sauce over all. Sprinkle with paprika.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve over wild or white rice. Serves 8.

Rosemary Cheese with Fig Preserves
Earle Wilkes
Great for showers, bridge or an appetizer for luncheons.
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
3 oz. log goat cheese (chevre)
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
3/4 cup fig preserves, chopped
Crackers, toasted French bread slices or bagel chips
Process cream cheese, rosemary, goat cheese, honey and pepper. Spoon into lightly greased 1 1/2 cup mold lined with plastic wrap.  Cover and chill at least 2 hours.
Invert onto serving dish.  Spoon chopped fig preserves over cheese.  Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs and serve with crackers, toasted French bread slices, bagel chips, etc.  Makes 2 cups.

Watermelon Salad
Jo Ellen James
1 (5 lb.) watermelon
1 Vidalia onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
4 oz. feta cheese crumbled
Salt and pepper
6 whole mint sprigs
Cut melon into bite-size pieces, removing seeds and set aside.  Peel and slice the onion into rings.
In a small bowl, combine vinegar, salt, pepper, and whisk until salt is dissolved.  Slowly whisk in olive oil, a few drops at a time.  Add chopped mint.
In a large bowl, combine the melon, onion, and feta.  Pour dressing over melon mixture and toss.  Garnish with mint sprigs.

Stuffed Tomatoes
Mary Ann Swanson
Looks attractive for a luncheon.
Take whole tomatoes and cut in half to create zigzag edges
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. chopped red pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped onion
Seasoning salt
Combine and fill tomato halves.
Cooked bacon, crumbled
Sprinkle bacon on top of filling.

Fancy Pimento Cheese
Jennifer Jones
Serve with assorted crackers or small bread slices.
1/2 can mild Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Two 8 oz. blocks sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. jar chopped pimento
3 Tbsp. grated onion
4 oz. cream cheese, soften
Mix all ingredients together. May add entire can of Rotel, if desired. It is better to use blocks of cheese and grate your own rather than using bags of grated cheese. Chill overnight before serving.

Red Berry Trifle
Julia Moreman
1 plain pound cake
1 pt. fresh strawberries
2 cups cold heavy cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup raspberry jam
2 half pints fresh raspberries
1 pkg. instant vanilla pudding and pie filling, prepared according to directions on package
2 Tbsp. sugar
Slice pound cake into 10 ¾ inch slices and spread raspberry jam on each slice on one side using all the jam; set aside.
Place a layer of cake jam side up in the bottom of a 3-quart greased trifle bowl, cutting pieces to fit. Sprinkle with framboise. Top with layer of strawberries, raspberries and pudding.
Repeat layers, ending with a third layer of cake jam side down and raspberries and strawberries. Whip heavy cream in a bowl. Tip- Put beaters and bowl in freezer until cold. To whip, put bowl in bigger bowl with ice. Cream will never turn to butter.
When cream starts to thicken, add sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until it forms stiff peaks. Decorate with whipped cream.

Easy Éclair Cake
Vera Ellen Scott
1 to 2 boxes graham crackers
2 small pkgs. instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups cold milk
12 oz. Cool Whip
1 can chocolate fudge frosting
Arrange whole graham crackers to cover bottom of 9 x 13-inch dish. (I cut some crackers to fill in any spaces around the edges.) Combine milk and pudding mixes, beat with a wire whisk for 1 minute. Add Cool Whip.
Spread half of the pudding mixture over graham crackers. Repeat layers. Top with graham crackers.
Remove foil covering from frosting; microwave for 3 minutes on high. Pour evenly over crackers. Sprinkle with a few graham cracker crumbs. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Cut into squares and serve.

Key Lime Tarts
If desired, decorate with whipped cream, a blueberry and wedge of kiwi or fruit of your choice.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 oz. butter, melted
Measure graham cracker crumbs and sugar into small mixing bowl, stir to blend. Add melted butter and mix well.
Measure 1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp. crumb mixture into each muffin cup. Press crumbs evenly over the bottom of each cup with the bottom of a small glass. Set aside.
Two 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk
5 egg yolks
½ cup lime juice
In medium bowl, whisk sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks together until smooth. Add lime juice and stir until completely blended. Fill each crust lined muffin cup to the top with filling (2 Tbsp.).  Bake for 14 minutes at 350 degrees.
Refrigerate until well chilled. Pop tarts out of pans.

Caesar Pasta Salad
Debby Whitney
Add grilled chicken strips for a main dish salad.
1 box of tri-color rotini pasta, cooked according to package, cooled
1 jar Marie’s Caesar Dressing (save 1/3 of container to mix in right before serving)
1 chopped red bell pepper or chopped roasted red pepper
1 chopped orange bell pepper
14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and cut in quarters
5 oz. container finely shredded Parmesan cheese (save a little for the topping)
Mix all ingredients together and marinate overnight. Add reserved Caesar Dressing before serving; mix and top with remaining Parmesan Cheese.

Crepes with Chicken, Spinach and Mushroom Filling
Leigh Whatley
Can use purchased crepes to save time.
4 Tbsp. butter
2 onions, chopped
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
Half of 10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed
2 cups chopped chicken, cooked
6 Tbsp. sour cream
2 Tbsp. sherry
6 Tbsp. butter
6 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup sherry
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese
Salt to taste
8-12 crepes, purchased pre-made or make your own
Melt butter in large skillet.  Add onions and sauté until soft.  Add mushrooms and sauté for few minutes; remove from heat.  Add spinach, chicken, sour cream, sherry and salt to taste.  Stir until well blended. This mixture may be done ahead and refrigerated.
Melt butter; remove from heat.  Add flour and stir until smooth.  Stir in sherry, stock and milk.  Return pan to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick and at a full boil.  Reduce heat and simmer.
Add cheese and salt to taste.  Stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Remove pan from heat. Cover with a piece of waxed paper so that a skin does not form. Sauce may be frozen.
Fill crepes with warmed filling; roll up and place side by side in baking dish.  Spoon some of the sauce over the crepes and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reheat remaining sauce gently and serve separately. Makes 4 servings.

Delicious Lemon Dessert
Connie Montgomery
1 envelope plain gelatin
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. lemon rind
4 eggs, separated
1 pt. heavy cream, whipped
1 cup sugar, divided
2 dozen ladyfingers
Pinch of salt
Strawberries and whipped cream for topping
Soften gelatin in cold water and dissolve over hot water or in microwave. Separate eggs and beat yolks, adding 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Beat until thick and light colored. Slowly add lemon juice, rind and gelatin while still beating on low until thickened. Set aside. Beat egg whites until foamy and gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into yolk mixture. Fold in whipped cream.
Line a trifle bowl or any glass bowl with straight sides, with lady finger halves. Place vertically with outside of ladyfingers showing. Pour in 1/2 of custard.
Place more ladyfingers on top and remaining of custard. Refrigerate 4 – 6 hours. Top with whipped cream and a fan of fresh strawberry slices. I have also taken three thin lemon slices cut halfway through and twisted to stand in the center and sprinkled more lemon zest lightly over the top.

Neiman-Marcus Bars
Vera Ellen Scott
1 box butter pecan cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 large egg
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 lb. box confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 stick butter, softened
1½ cups chopped pecans
For crust, combine cake mix, melted butter and 1 egg. Press into a greased 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking dish.
Combine cream cheese, confectioners sugar, vanilla, 2 eggs and softened butter. Beat at medium speed until smooth. Pour over crust and cover with pecans.
Bake at 300 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until firm. Cool and cut into squares. Makes 24 bars.