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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Design For Dining

As Baby and I had invited a few friends from the design biz (two interior designers, a lighting designer and an event director for an interior design magazine) over for dinner, I set out to design a menu, having already designed a perfect salon comprised of guests with shared interests.

The new Gourmet magazine arrived and in it I found the Garden Party article which reaps the bounty of August's best. I didn't make all of the line-up (nor was any of it presented in a garden, as I don't have one) and took some shortcuts here and improvised there, but it's a great menu and I think ultimately, it all came together very well. My goal is to always spend as much time with my guests and as little time in the kitchen (Baby is even teaching me to use pots and pans more economically) and here, Gourmet's recipes are also very helpful in offering what to prepare beforehand in the Cook's Notes.
To begin with, Melon Coolers were far more interesting with a few splashes of prosecco instead of seltzer or club soda. Reggie absolutely swooned! I have long loved serving salted radishes and butter as an appetizer, the leafy greens still attached, colorfully spread out on a serving platter or a wooden cutting board. BNO went for the elegant, elongated, pink-tinged French Market radishes, less strident than the rounder, bright red variety. Alongside, the anchovy butter was delicious, and frankly I can't wait to make again and slather it on a lobster.

The shortcakes for the Chive Shortcakes with Smoky Corn and Okra Stew didn't happen. I very unapologetically used scrumptious Pillsbury Grands and sprinkled fresh chopped chives on top instead. Having browned the corn in a skillet (the cobs, corn silk, and a smoked turkey leg stewed separately first before being removed) and combined all with simmered okra and onions, it was very good. And despite our own designs, some things are a happy accident--I didn't know Southern has a penchant for okra, having grown up in Virginia.
I didn't make the Cool Jade Soup or the Pickled Baby Squash made with maple syrup, preferably dark amber, but since I just happened to have some on hand, I thought to pull out a single element (the syrup) used in the Squash recipe as a wonderful drizzle for the Stew, as sweet and smoky are amiable companions. So yes, the syrup made it to the table but I forgot to tell anybody to try it.
Ace loved the Baked Tomatoes with Hazelnut Bread Crumbs--a gorgeous display, easily prepared, and can be made ahead of time, as it certainly holds its heat for a while. But I would toast the hazelnuts only a short time before you need them as they can become soggy. Farmers Market Salad with Aged Gouda and Roasted Portabellas went over very well and the unique flavor of the cheese, simply dressed and mixed with the mushrooms and an assortment of spicy greens was a welcome addition to the table.

A whole sheet cake for the Yogurt Cake with Currant Raspberry Sauce seemed a touch taxing, so I purchased a striking Sorbetto di Lampone, raspberry sorbet, from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market instead, topped with a chiffonade of basil. Having swallowed oceans of delicious Sancerre wine, we still had designs for a little after-dinner drink (or two), so we finished off with some cherry brandy, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and shared a bar of Swiss chocolate filled with the shameless pear liqueur otherwise known as Poire William.

Soundtrack: Bossa Brava, Tropicale!, Bebel Gilberto, Tanto Tempo; The Girl From Ipanema, The Antonio Carlos Jobim Songbook, Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66, Foursider; The Mike Flowers Pops, a groovy place

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