Magnolias Chef Kelly Franz Hosts a Girls’ Night In


When Magnolias executive chef Kelly Franz hosts a girls’ night in at her James Island home, it’s a casual, laid-back affair, but the meal is still more elevated than any takeout or pizza delivery could offer.

When Kelly has her girlfriends over, she’s often entertaining other chefs, so the food has to be on point.

But Kelly is confident and relaxed, taking care of last-minute details in her dream kitchen that she and her boyfriend have recently redone in the ranch-style house she bought a little more than a year ago.

The night’s menu features lots of vegetables, but with plenty of cheese, Kelly says, as she expertly cuts avocados and adds slices of heirloom cherry tomatoes to the top of the mini tomato pies.

“These little slices make it look fancy,” she says. “Look good, taste good. That’s the plan.”

As her guests arrive, they catch up on their lives and their work – pregnancies, a recent Hot Pot dinner, the never-ending need for rest and vacations, home renovation projects and ice cream.

“Let’s eat!” Kelly says. “I would like everyone to feel comfortable mowing down.”

As the women toast and gather around the table, it gets quiet – a sure sign they indeed feel comfortable and are enjoying the meal.

The Menu
Blend Gazpacho
served with fancy grilled cheese sandwiches
(The secret to the grilled cheese? Using Duke’s Mayonnaise instead of butter.)

Grouper Ceviche with mango pico de gallo

Mini Tomato Pies

Seven Layer Dip

Blackberry Blood Orange Cocktail
made with Striped Spiced Rum by Striped Pig Distillery
a cocktail soon to be added to the menu at Magnolias

Lemon Bars with pecan almond crust
made by Magnolias pastry chef Mallory Ellis

The Guests
Mallory Ellis, pastry chef, Magnolias
Andrea Upchurch, pastry chef, The Obstinate Daughter
Danetra Richardson, owner, Swank Desserts
Kelly Chu, co-owner, Red Orchids Chinese Bistro, Cirsea and Betty’s Eatery
Mindy Flowers, server, Husk

The Recipes
Blender Gazpacho

2 English cucumbers, peeled and chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 small can tomato juice (5.5oz)
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup diced yellow onions 
2 cloves garlic
Kosher salt to taste

In a high-powered blender, purée the first three ingredients until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and purée until completely smooth. Season with kosher salt to taste, chill for one hour and serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three days.

Fancy Grilled Cheese

12 slices of crusty sourdough bread
6 slices Manchego cheese, or your favorite
1 thinly sliced English cucumber
Duke’s Mayonnaise

Coat one side of each bread slice with Duke’s Mayonnaise. Build grilled-cheese sandwiches with Manchego and sliced cucumbers in the center and the mayo side of the bread on the outside of the sandwich. Preheat the flat top griddle on medium heat, then toast each side until golden brown. Serve immediately with gazpacho.

Grouper Ceviche


2 pounds grouper, filleted and cut into small pieces
Marinade, recipe follows
Mango pico de gallo, recipe follows


Add fish pieces to marinade and allow to sit for at least two hours or up to one day.  Serve with mango pico de gallo and flatbread crackers.


1 cup grapefruit juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 lime, zest only
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mango Pico de Gallo

2 mangos, peeled and pits removed
1/2 cup small diced red onion
1/2 cup small diced green pepper
1/2 cup small diced red pepper
1 small diced medium tomato
1 jalapeño, minced
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat one mango with olive oil and roast for 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and purée in a blender until smooth. Dice remaining mango; mix with mango purée and remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Can be done a day ahead to enhance flavors.

Mini Tomato Pies

2 large heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
4-6 slices cooked smoked bacon, sliced thin
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup softened cream cheese or goat cheese
1/2 cup caramelized onions, chopped small
2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced thin
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
24 mini tart shells
8 cherry tomatoes, sliced into thirds


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine heirloom tomatoes, sliced bacon, cheeses, onions and basil. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spoon mixture into tart shells and bake on a sheet pan for 12-15 minutes until tarts are golden brown and filling is warm throughout. Top with a slice of cherry tomato.

Seven Layer Dip

(2) 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
Black bean purée, recipe follows
8 ounces brick sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
2-3 medium tomatoes, diced
4 ripe avocados, diced
2 bunches cilantro, chopped
Sliced pickled jalapeños, to taste
Tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Evenly press softened cream cheese into the bottom of a glass baking dish. Top with black bean purée and shredded white cheddar. Bake uncovered in the oven for 15 minutes. Top with fresh diced tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and jalapeños in separate layers and serve immediately with tortilla chips.  

Black Bean Purée

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 stick whole butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups water

In a small sauce pot over medium heat, simmer all ingredients until water has reduced by half. Purée in a food processor until completely smooth. Set aside to cool.

Blackberry Blood Orange Cocktail

1 cup blackberry purée
2 cans blood orange San Pellegrino
2 cups soda water
Striped Pig spiced rum, to taste
2 tablespoons jalapeño simple syrup, recipe follows (optional)

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve over ice and garnish with fresh blackberries and sliced blood oranges.

Jalapeño Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 jalapeño, sliced

In a sauce pot, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce by half, then strain simple syrup and discard sliced jalapeños. Store in an airtight container.

Lemon Bars
Yield: 1/2 sheet pan

Pecan Toffee Shortbread, recipe follows
Lemon curd, recipe follows

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly flour the dough disk and two large sheets of parchment paper. Place the dough between the sheets of parchment, and roll it out into a rectangle 9 by 11 inches and about 1/4-inch thick. Carefully peel off the top sheet of parchment. (Place the whole thing in the fridge for a few minutes if the dough sticks to the parchment.) Transfer the bottom sheet of parchment with the dough to a 9-by-11-inch baking pan or baking dish with at least 2-inch-high sides. Press the dough to fit the bottom of the pan, and allow the parchment to come up the sides of the pan. The dough needs to be about the same thickness all around, but it does not have to be smooth.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the shortbread is light brown — about the same color as maple wood. Remove from the oven (leave the over set at 350 degrees), pour the lemon curd on top, and smooth the filling evenly over the shortbread with a rubber spatula.

Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the curd has set and jiggles like firm Jell-O. Let cool to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight to allow the curd to set. If refrigerating overnight, lightly drape plastic wrap over the top to keep any refrigerator smells from seeping into your lemon bars.

Gently tug the parchment on all sides to loosen the shortbread from the pan, then slide it out onto a cutting board. Trim the edges of the shortbread, then cut into 18 bars.

The bars can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Pecan Toffee Shortbread
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups toffee bits

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners’ sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle again with a rubber spatula to make sure the egg yolk is thoroughly incorporated.

In a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix for about 15 seconds, or until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed. Add in the chopped pecans and toffee bits. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl again to make sure all of the flour mixture is thoroughly incorporated.

Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap the dough in the plastic wrap, pressing down to form a disk 6 to 7 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Refrigerate the dough about 30 minutes, or until it has firmed up but is still somewhat pliable. (At this point, the dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. If the dough is frozen, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, then let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before using.)

Lemon Curd:

6 cups plus 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
24 eggs
12 egg yolks
6 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

While the dough is chilling, in a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the lemon juice, butter and cream. Place over medium-high heat, and heat to just below a boil. Meanwhile, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks until blended. Slowly whisk in the granulated sugar until combined. Remove the lemon juice mixture from heat and gradually whisk a little of it into the egg mixture. Continue whisking the hot liquid into the eggs, a little at a time, until all of it has been incorporated.

When all of the lemon juice mixture has been incorporated, return the contents of the bowl to the saucepan, and return the saucepan to medium heat. Cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon and making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan frequently to prevent the eggs from scrambling, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon thickly. To test, draw your finger along the back of the spoon; the curd should hold the trail for a second or two before it fills.

Remove the lemon curd from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl or pitcher. Whisk in the salt and vanilla. (The lemon curd can be made up to 4 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If using chilled curd, add 5 to 6 minutes to the baking time.)