Entertaining in the summer is the best. And, quite honestly, especially at my house. Because we have really really great friends, and because it’s always stinkin’ delicious. The top 10 (food related!) contributions to Sunday night’s fabulous dinner party were the following:
1. Fresh produce
With an obvious exception in one dish that you’ll see later on, every fruit and vegetable served was local.
Can we talk about how beautiful those shallots are?! And how they were $3 a pint, and since they are stupidly, ludicrously overpriced at the grocery store we probably SAVED MONEY by going local? Score.
2. Decor that says “Hello, friends!”
It’s fun throwing together a mishmosh of heirlooms and gifts to make your house pretty. You can be dressy and festive without being all matchy matchy and Martha Stewarty (aka scary). That table is dressed with a sari from a friend who lived in India, topped with a sheer tablecloth my mother’s aunt bought in Madeira.
The teapot-used-as-vase I’m not entirely sure but it’s… old. Anyway, zinnias are among nature’s most cheerful flowers. They always make my heart smile. They’re local too!
3. Yummy veg-centered nibbleys!
Obviously. That’s a given if I am (co) hosting an event.
My favorite of the evening was a newbie:
You’re going to have to bear with me on the dramatic back and forth between natural and artificial light- we had bizarre weather today- these shots were taken in the torrential downpour, which was followed by beautiful summer breezy weather. Go figure.
Anyway, this is muhammara, which I dog-eared in the latest issue of Cooking Light. Dip of roasted red pepper, roasted walnuts, spice, honey… yeah all those things are good but all combined together this incredible synergy happens and this is definitely one of my favorite dips now. Ever. I knew I was onto a good thing when I was whirring it up in the food processor and couldn’t stop sniffing it. TMI?
There was definitely something in both smell and taste that reminded me of mole. Which kind of makes sense. In Turkey, they roasted up red peppers and walnuts. In South America, they roasted up poblano peppers and pumpkin seeds. Beautiful things happen when you roast!
My friend Virginia was one of our guests and she’s a vegetarian, so though there were plenty of other veggie friendly dishes, I wanted to make something proteinaceous, so I did yet another twist on bean salad: this had chickpeas, red onion and some of those gorgeous shallots, cilantro, olive oil and vinegar, and because that somehow seemed boring, cumin (whenever anything seems boring, I add cumin)
I’m obsessed with this bowl. My mother got it in Italy, which I thought was perfect giving the Mediterranean thing we kind of had going.
Another new recipe.
I saw a recipe in The Philosopher’s Kitchen which featured cucumber and golden raisin. I was like “Well, yeah!”
But for the dressing it called for heavy cream and that’s something I never have and also didn’t want to be worried about on a hot summer day. So I decided to strike that and use Greek yogurt instead (Greek! Duh!).
But then there was no feta, which it also called for, at the farmer’s market… and so on and so on. So my recipe didn’t bear that much resemblence to the original but WAS delicious, due to this:
4. Local mind bogglingly great Greek yogurt
Ohhhhhh my God this dressing.
The yogurt, fresh cilantro, dried coriander, honey, lemon juice, olive oil, and vinegar.
I know it sounds not dissimilar to a raita or tzaziki (and went on cucumber no less) but the flavor profile of this dish was totally unique. The cilantro-honey mix was rockin’ my world (I know cilantro is not for everyone but I love it!)
This salad got put out a bit early with the appetizers cause I was running in and out to the deck grilling things and I think people found it… confusing. An A for taste, a D for presentation. Maybe using thinner yogurt would be better for next time… but it was just so goooooooood as is. I’m musing on it.
And the final item in the vegetarian department: the return of the squash pancakes I made awhile back. I didn’t have fresh mint; so I used yet more of our insanely huge deck crop of oregano.
Smashing. These, despite being vegetarian, were actually the big hit of the evening amongst the omnivores- there were NO leftovers.
5. My mama’s Greek potato salad
Pretty self explanatory. How sad that other people don’t get this element included in their dinner parties. They must be less good, hahahaha.
But seriously, I never make it as deliciously as my mom does (probably because of her very very free hand with the olive oil, which is where all the flavor comes from.) There’s also green onion and shallot and lots of fresh herbs (oregano and rosemary).
I had all the other things planned and I’m reading off my list and my mom’s like “Uh huh, uh huh, sounds good, we need more food. A starch. There are men coming.”
And she was right. And the potato salad was great.
6. Grace under pressure.
With all of our get togethers lately, it feels like the guest list always ends up sneaking up on us. As, indeed, it did tonight… earlier we were speculating at 8, and then there were 12. Funny.
Since I have an anxiety disorder particular to the children of Greek women that there will not be enough food in the house despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I convinced myself we’d need more food, perhaps an appetizer. So, um, I slightly cheated.
Yep. I went all Cake Doctor on it and added fresh tomatoes and basil, but Trader Joe hooked me up.
A nice loafa Italian bread, all toasted up, with that mixture on top, tasted right nice, I have to say. Bruschetta in the summer is great.
7. Lamb to do my ancestors proud.
We had to contend with an eater who eats no chicken, beef, pork, or mushrooms (?!). And, yknow, we’re Greek. So lamb was a pretty obvious choice.
We mixed it up with a new marinade.
Back story- I was at my dad’s ravenously hungry and waiting for him to order Chinese because he can’t just order Chinese, he has to go to Menupages and determine which Chinese restaurant in the area has the best reviews (I mean, I have these tendencies but not at 9 at night). So, instead of chewing my arm off, I started reading cookbooks. Including the Sunset Best of Grilling. And in it I found a recipe for African Spiced Lamb kebabs. Perfection! So I copied it out and brought it to my mom’s :D
Start by tossing the lamb with a bunch of awesome
Lemon juice, olive oil, tomato paste, spices, and SCADS of ginger. You cut them into 1 1/2 inch chunks, then marinated them, then skewered them…
Aren’t our skewers cool? They’re a souvenir from Greece (when my parents went in the 90s, I think). There’s one for each sign of the Zodiac!
Onto ze grill they went, and then off they came. Tell me I could not open a kebab restaurant. Isn’t that GORGE?!
And to accompany, when you make the marinade, you reserve 1/3 of it (not putting it on the lamb) and mix it with diced tomato for a sauce.
Honestly, this seemed to confuse the guests, since I didn’t label it or anything. It was like a confusing-looking tomato salad to them. C’est la vie. Every party has its lesson.
But wait, don’t cover up that grill yet!
Pfft you thought I was done at the lamb? When I fire up the grill, it’s gettin used! I got some of the free nectarines and peaches from my beloved, plus some that we actually paid for, hah.
As usual, I didnt bother with any marinade or basting or anything: I just cut ‘em in half and plonked them on the grill and got some UNFRIGGINBELIEVABLE grill marks! These are my best looking yet.
For the record, these were made first, so they didn’t get any lamb juice on them for the vegetarian (though quite honestly I bet it’d be totally yummy!)
You’ll see what I did with them in a bit :D
8. Dining al fresco
In the summer, whenever we can, especially when we’re entertaining, we eat outside. It makes for such a nice relaxed ambiance, and it takes me back to last summer eating out at the tavernas in Greece.
And dim lighting means you can get away with a pretty ghetto setup. Observe:
The usual deck table expanded with card tables, and easy folding chairs.
If you put on real tablecloths, it looks nice, and Citronella candles repel (ish, for awhile) bugs and give a nice ambiance:
For cute lighting, Target sells these little lantern strands (though do yourself a favor and, unlike me, buy more than one, or it looks stupid!)
And there are never too many flowers, especially sweet n summery black eyed susans!
9. Table on the verge of collapse
As usual, my panic over not having enough food was not actually necessary.
We always do buffets. Helping yourself is the best thing for relaxed entertaining.
10. Dessert. Obviously.
But wait… another beautiful two word phrase…
From our local farmer’s market ice cream guys! The vanilla was the richest I’ve ever tasted and that sorbet could get you (stupidly, happily!) drunk.
But wait wait wait wait wait ANOTHER ULTIMATE BEAUTIFUL TWO WORD PHRASE:
The best bread pudding ever, instructions for which can be found in Favorite Recipes. With the aforementioned peaches n creme. I think we have discovered the greatest summer dessert of all time.
And, of course, there was the company. All of whom wanted copies of my business card. Hi friends! Thank you for joining us!
We had a vair fun mix of people: two of my mom’s friends from when she was my age working at her first job who she still keeps in touch with (how cool!) with some of their kids, who are fun. As well as a friend of mine who I’ve known since we were twelve and whose whole family has now become friends with my whole family. So great!
Definitely the most hilarious moment of the evening was when my sister informed my friend’s brother that he reminded her of Clint Eastwood. Is there any greater compliment that could be paid to a man?!