Best summer menu – A photo essay.

Beginning the pico de gallo for the guacamole. I have learned a new technique for making stellar guac from a local taqueria – soak the pico de gallo in lime juice for several hours in order to break down the tomatoes. None of this last minute throw it together – this shit takes time.

You might think that this is an awful lot of photos for a single dinner party – and you might be right – but honestly, I think I have hit on the single most perfect dinner party menu for summer-time and it required some serious documentation.

Basically I was looking to host a small backyard dinner party that wasn’t a barbeque and could take a couple of food intolerance issues into account (I don’t eat wheat, and two of my guests can’t have dairy). Also I don’t like having to spend a lot of time in the kitchen once guests arrive – and I wanted to use at least some of the fresh produce from the garden even though I don’t have a ton of any one thing. So – given all these factors – tapas became the obvious choice.

The herbs are in bloom right now which means the pleasure of cooking with both leaf and flower. This is the mint soon to be mixed into ground beef and turned into meatballs.

With an emphasis on dips and dishes that could be prepped in advance – this is what I came up with:

Opening Cocktail: Bing Cherry Mojitos
Appetizer Tapas: Pita breads with Baba Ganoush, Marinated Feta & 2 kinds of olives.
Cold Tapas: Salad skewers, pickled asparagus, green bean salad with hazelnuts
Warm Tapas: Tortilla Espanola, Meatballs with Ouzo & Mint (served with a yogurt/dill dip), Crab Cakes with fresh guacamole
Dessert: Chocolate Gelato (non-dairy) with raspberry coulis

Not only was the meal a fabulous array of small bits and flavours – it had all the visual appeal that a summer meal in the garden should:

A tip on the bing cherry mojitos – the cherries and lime should definitely be left to meld overnight, the simple syrup should be added in the morning still several hours before serving.
In the background you can see the marinated feta, which is simply crumbled cow feta with fresh rosemary and flowering oregano, covered in olive oil with a 1/2 oz of premium balsamic vinegar.
Green bean salad: Lightly steam green beans (really, the lighter the better) then chill in the fridge. Toast and chop hazelnuts. Just before serving sprinkle the green beans with the nuts, drizzle with walnut oil and sprinkle with salt.
Yogurt dip: 1 cup of yogurt, 1/2 cup of dill, juice of 2 lemons. Mix and refrigerate until needed.
Guacamole: Use whatever recipe you prefer, but marinate the pico de gallo in the lime juice for at least four hours for a richer and more complex flavour.
Salad skewers: Grape tomatoes, cucumber from the garden, feta cubes wrapped in basil, green olives.
Tortilla Espanola: I hate having to flip things in a pan because they so often fall apart on me – so I mainly cooked this with a lid on and then finished the top in a 350 degree oven for five minutes. This turned out perfectly.
Baguette and corn chips were served to mop up sauces and so forth.
Greek Meatballs: I was able to make these early in the day and then reheat. Definitely these are best served with a bit of tzatziki or other sauce.
Crab cakes: I don’t even attempt things like crab cakes – these were bought from the Wheelhouse (our local fishmonger) and with a little guacamole on the side were heavenly!
And here is what it all looks like together, with wine!
Originally we were six, but my friend Rachel had to leave right away because her friend went into labour and she had volunteered to look after the friend’s other child. So we were five instead – here are the lovely people I got to cook for. Besides Brian, the common denominator is that we are all in the same university program (Graduate Liberal Studies – SFU).
And…… dessert! After half hour of rest post-dinner, we finished off with this non-dairy gelato – which turned out to be one of the nicest frozen desserts I have made yet. This incredibly simple recipe calls for 2 cans of coconut milk (I used one regular and one light), 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, 3/4 of a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla. Start by mixing the 1/2 cup of cocoa powder with 1/2 cup of the coconut milk until smooth – set aside. In a saucepan combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt and mix – put on heat and whisk in the remainder of the coconut milk. Keep stirring and cooking on medium heat until the cornstarch begins to thicken and cook. Once the mixture has thickened, whisk it together with the cocoa mixture and then add a tsp of vanilla. Chill in the fridge overnight and then make in your ice cream maker. The raspberry coulis on top is simply 2 cups of raspberries with 1/2 of sugar left to macerate for several hours until the berries had collapsed and the sugar was absorbed. Quite simply – this recipe packs a lot of decadence for something so simple to prepare.

This was a somewhat elaborate affair – and yet still, prep time was only 3 hours, and cooking time right before serving was about 15 minutes. Total cost for the dinner: Seventy-five dollars which works out to $12.50 a person – not bad for what turned out to be a truly special meal. Because the tasks were small and varied in the preparation, this was a joy to put together. Lots of kitchen puttering without any single large task. I got all the prep done in the morning which meant a whole afternoon of lounging around in the backyard. Not bad!

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