17 June 2010

Good Food Gatherings (Menu #5 - #8)

More about our concept of Good Food Gatherings.

Entertaining for us is most simply gathering people together over good food and beverage in enjoyable surroundings.

Special events and occasions may require party themes, and decorations to match, but a good food gathering is about entertaining at its most basic.  These are the meals we pull together to provide good cuisine, and something to wet the whistle, allowing the time to share laughs and life with those gathered at our table.

Good food gatherings are impromptu business dinners or family weekend lunches or unexpected friends dropping by during the week. 

The trick is to have a menu in mind, incorporating fresh ingredients and flavors of the season, so that the good food part of your entertaining is under control freeing up time and attention to provide AAA hospitality while enjoying your guests.

Remember, unless it’s a more formal gathering, our basic menus have three parts – a Starter, Main Course, and a Side.  Salad, for example, can work as a Starter or a Side depending on the Main Course.  We don’t plan for dessert for each menu, but rather have a few special desserts that we might work into the plan for the week (if we’ve baked a cake for instance).

Here's the plan for our good food gatherings through the weekend - gathered from favorite cooking and food blogs, as well as treasured publications and cookbooks.  We expect to be grilling and outdoors quite a bit, so enjoy the various approaches to food on the barbie!

Featured #blogswelove in the recipes selected for these Good Food Gatherings - Cooking with Caitlin, Food Mayhem, Herbivoracious, Laura's Best Recipes, Pati's Mexican Table, The Perfect Pantry, and Sweetsonian.

GoodFood Menu #5

Starter:  Avocado Soup with Queso Fresco (Pati's Mexican Table)
Main: Grilled Tamarind Chicken (The Perfect Pantry)

~ For al fresco entertaining, we love a cool or "al tiempo" (room-temperature) soup. Chef Pati recommends that this soup can be served either cold or lukewarm to suit your taste.
~ The chicken can be made with whichever pieces and parts you prefer - we have even tried skinless/boneless and found the taste/texture to be just fine.  A perfect dish for informal outdoor gatherings.  Serves beautifully on a platter, providing easy access to each guest to grab their favorite piece.
~ For the salad, work with whichever greens you prefer, though the visual appeal of several colors is worth the effort.  If you've had enough avocado with the starter course, feel free to omit it in the salad.

GoodFood Menu #6

Starter:  Gazpacho (we have a few favorites, but this Andalusian version from Fine Cooking is a great place to start getting acquainted with this summer speciality)...
Main:  Grilled Whole Red Snapper with Radish Slaw (The Savvy Host, see below)
Side:  Grilled Zucchini and Garlic Knots (Food Mayhem)

~ We like to serve gazpacho in cups or glasses rather than bowls, especially when we're gathering outdoors.
~ Feel free to adapt the texture of the gazpacho to suit your personal taste - chunky or smooth.
~ A trick with grilled zucchini is to slice and salt the zucchini prior to grilling.  Lay slices between paper towels, and lightly salt one side. Let rest for at least 1 hour.  The zucchini will stay firm, and not become "mush".
~ Whole fish are available scaled & cleaned - local fish markets often will butterfly the fish for you if asked. Want to try it on your own? Here's a good link with visuals on How to Split or Butterfly a Fish (from about.com). How to season the fish?  Very simple. We like to rub the inside with salt & pepper, fresh thyme & parsley, and lemon zest.
~ The Radish Slaw recipe shared below has been adapted from the delicious creation served at Twisted Spoke in Chicago. 

"Twisted" Radish Slaw
serves 4 as a side
1 cup shredded radish -Red or French Breakfast are good color contrast, but Daikon also works
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 avocado - diced
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/2 cup finely sliced/chopped caper berries (stems removed)
1 tsp lime zest
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup safflower oil or olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste

Combine radish, cilantro, avocado, scallions and caper berries in a bowl.  In a smaller mixing bowl, or dressing jar, combine lime zest, lime juice and oil. Add salt/pepper to taste.  Adjust seasonings to personal taste as needed.

GoodFood Menu #7

Starter: Heirloom Tomato Salad (Laura’s Best Recipes)

With all of the fresh summer produce, play up the full flavors of heirloom tomatoes or mix grape tomatoes, beefsteak or whatever might be growing in your garden.  This is BEAUTIFUL served family style on a platter - perfect for summer buffets and barbeques. NOTE: do NOT dress this salad until just a few minutes before serving!!
~ Chimichurri sauce is a grillmaster's favorite - the fresh strong herbs bdlend so well with the flavor of grilled meat. Use your imagination - it's a great way to keep some of that rapidly growing herb garden in check!
~ For the fries, the aioli is optional - see if you have the time or inclination - but we would point out that it IS delicious with the skirt steak as well ;-)  We like to serve the fries in a big bread basket lined with paper.

GoodFood Menu #8

Starter: Grilled Ciabatta with Burrata, Fresh Basil & Balsamic Glaze (The Savvy Host, see below)
Main:  Grilled Prawns or Lobster with Lemon Oil (Mario Batali, Epicurious)
Side:  Arugula Salad w/Lemon Vinaigrette (included in the recipe above)

~ Don't be afraid to substitute large shrimp or prawns for lobster in Batali's recipe.  The preparation will be easier ~ we let the shrimp or prawns marinate in some of the lemon oil for at least an hour before cooking, reserving fresh lemon oil for serving.
~ Burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream where the outer layer/shell is solid mozzarella, and the inside is a soft textured blend of mozzarella and cream) has become more readily available at grocery stores (we've found the Bel Gioso brand pictured left at Costco!).  
The Burrata with Balsamic Glaze and Grilled Ciabatta recipe is easy to prepare and looks very elegant.  

Burrata with Balsamic Glaze and Grilled Ciabatta
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
Two 8-ounce pieces of Burrata -Bel Gioso offers this in their standard pack as pictured above.
3-4 sprigs of fresh basil - enough for 1/4-1/2 cup chopped
1 loaf artisan bread - Ciabatta, Italian Semolina preferred (baguette can also work)
Balsamic glaze or syrup (available from Whole Foods or Amazon.comRoland Foods Balsamic Glaze 12.9 oz ~$18)

~ Slice 1/2"-3/4" pieces of a Ciabatta or Italian Semolina artisan bread (if using baguette try slicing on the diagonal to increase grillable surface area).
~ Place on a VERY hot grill for 1-2 minutes each side - just until the grill marks appear. Arrange on a plate or platter.
~ Rinse the burrata and cut into quarter pieces.  Arrange on a plate next to the grilled ciabatta.
~ Cut a handful of fresh basil into ribbons. "Nest" the basil alongside the burrata.
~ Drizzle the balsamic glaze/syrup lightly atop the burrata.
~ Add salt & pepper to taste (note that we like to use fleur de sel for this dish).


Fabulous Red Velvet Cake (Gale Gand, Food Network) - don't like this version? Food Network offers 14 other recipe variations to try! Don't hesitate

Red Raspberry Chocolate Bon Bons (Cooking with Caitlin)

Figs with Honey & Marscapone (Cooking with Caitlin)

~ Both the Red Raspberry and the Fig desserts play up fresh fruit available now with accents of chocolate and honeyed marscapone. Use your creativity to substitute other fruit as you prefer (e.g. strawberries, bananas, apricots, peaches...).
Happy Entertaining!

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