I almost can't believe I am sitting down here to write this post out. It seems a tad unreal. Scroll down, you'll see what I mean. There is a mere chocolate chip cookie post resting between the last Cooking Club post and this one. Something is really wrong with that. Wow, I must have really let this site go for nearly a month if I'm sitting down to tell you about 'Around the Table's latest culinary adventure. Plus, it took me over a week to get this post completed. I promise I will be more consistent. There's no fun in visiting a food blog that doesn't change on at least a weekly basis, trust me I know, I'm thoroughly food blog obsessed. My sincere apologies!
Brace yourself, if this post is anything like our dinner, it's going to be a long one. If you get bored of my ramblings, skip ahead to the juicy parts, that being the recipes. This was an 'on location' dinner, nobody hosted, we didn't sit down at a table, or eat on china with metal utensils. Nope. This was our picnic dinner. The food and the orchard in which we laid our blankets to relax and eat were as lovely as you could possibly imagine. So, not only do I feel obliged to tell you about the food, I feel it is my duty to share with you a bit about where we spent our evening. Therefore, an already generally long post, is going to have a few additional topics than normal.
Let's begin at the beginning. During our Brunch a few months ago the group mapped out it's course for the summer. We all agreed this season was the time to take advantage of the mere couple of months the Northwest sees a (somewhat) consistent offering of warm(ish) weather. For us this meant getting outside and pairing the sunshine with meals that would compliment it. We all agreed that at the first sign of summer, in June, we would have a picnic. Over the last couple of weeks we planned and plotted our dishes and gave little thought to location. The week before our dinner I realized that we did not have a spot picked out. Our lovely Ashley offered to host it at her house, as it would be her return to the group after having brought her beautiful daughter Aurora into the world a mere 8 weeks prior. As wonderful as Ashley's new home is, we decided that this may possibly be the only meal we could enjoy outside of someone's home, away from the stove, oven, and everyday kitchen gadgets we so heavily rely on. We agreed that we must grab this opportunity by the reigns and find a grassy spot somewhere to enjoy our meal together. Let all the hostesses off the hook and allow nature to be our host for the evening. There wasn't much input on where we should go so I picked a place. Somewhere between everyone's locations in Whatcom county, as well as one of the largest, and most foodie friendly parks in town; Hovander Homestead. This is a place I don't visit often, our dinner made me wonder why, because it's extensive, breath taking farm of sorts. One of my favorite features, a place that brings out my inner child (much like Christmas trees, and fireworks) is the area devoted to farm animals (chickens, bunnies, clydesdales horses, goats, pigs, cows, turkey's, chickens. .
The actual homestead is at the center of the park, a gorgeous home and barn built in 1903 by the Hovander family who immigrated to Washington from Sweden. In the back of the house, an extensive garden, with a wide variety of herbs, greens, lettuce, and vegetables. Quite impressive. To the North, just beyond the white picket fences that encloses the large home sits a gorgeous apple orchard. It is here next to the garden, and under the low hanging branches of the apple trees that we set up camp, laid our blankets and placed our picnic baskets. Before we got started we roamed the garden and the grounds. Smelling herbs, taking pictures, trying to pet the animals, and of course cuddling with Aurora. For any avid food blogging reader out there, this place may look familiar to you, particularly if you are a fan of miss Molly over at Orangette. Sitting amongst the sunshine in the orchard I found myself thinking "this is likely one of the best spots a foodie could host an outdoor dinner in our area", see for yourself.
We started our dinner as we usually do, with a good drink. Laurel made an incredible concoction, a quintessential summer drink. She brought along a giant pitcher of cucumber juice, fresh lime juice, watermelon and white rum. She filled each of our glasses to the brim with ice, garnished them with sprigs of mint, as well as slices of lime and watermelon, then she topped the whole shebang with a splash of sparkling water. It was incredibly refreshing. Laurel thought there was too much cucumber (and she didn't use much), I did not agree, but if you attempt it, I suggest you start with a 1:2 ratio of cucumber and watermelon, perhaps even less, and decide for yourself how much cucumber juice you like in it. If you like it sweeter whip up a batch of simple syrup and sweeten it to taste. Either way, I thought it was incredible combo, not too sweet, very refreshing, just perfect for a hot summer day.
Laurel also toted along gorgeous cuts of watermelon soaked in tequila, which diners dipped in coarse salt. Yum! What a great idea. . .
As we sipped our drinks Laura fired up her camping barbecue. That's right, a portable barbecue. She brought it along because she wanted her appetizer to be hot off the grill, not cold and sweated in a tupperware container. Laura brought along a variety of kabobs, from marinated mushroom, to fresh veggies with gorgeous shades of cherry tomatoes, shrimp with lemon, and of course chicken. She served her dish with a large bowl of her take on tatziki sauce, which we slathered over the length of our kabobs as we enjoyed them. It was one of those dishes, the ones that are fresh, simple, and incredibly satisfying.
After our appetizer course Alexis served the veggie. Out of her basket came a delicious and simple green salad, dark, leafy, earthy, just right. The dressing was near perfection, the right balance of light, creamy, and a tad spicy. A simply stunning dressing to toss with a plate full of romaine, green leaf, and arugula. And those gorgeous little flowers you see? They are arugula blossoms. Rachelle made a very valid comment while we were enjoying our salad about these blossoms. Have you ever purchased organic flowers, marigolds, pansies, you know what I'm talking about? Perfect to add color to any salad mix. The problem is, many flowers don't add much flavor, and sometimes can feel like a mouthful. The arugula blossoms on the other hand were delicate, but added an extra something special. It sounds as though Alexis has an extensive garden, since she was throwing in arugula, she figured 'why not add the blossoms too'. Garden and gastronomy genius. (Alexis if you read this feel free to leave a comment with a more specific dressing recipe, I know readers seeking recipes would appreciate it because it was incredible).
Imagine my surprise when post salad consumption miss Alexis pulled out two large jars filled with an incredible hot pink fluid. Fluid sounds odd doesn't it? It wasn't I promise. Come to find out Alexis had pickled a variety of garden fresh veggies, from beets (which gave the liquid it's bright color), to carrots, to zucchini. As you can see, the pickling liquid imparted it's brilliant beet pink color onto each vegetable. (Add this one too Alexis if you can, I've never pickled and wouldn't know where to begin).
What's a picnic without potato or pasta salad? As you can tell by the picture we were served both, even though Ashley was only assigned one side dish. It seems that multiples was the theme of the day. I really loved the potato salad, the thing that stuck out to me were the fresh peas that speckled the potato landscape. The vinegar was tart, the mayo light. I have to say I've never had peas in a potato salad and it was incredible, they pop against the softness of the potato. I urge you to give it a shot. So, so, so good. The pasta salad took another avenue. It was a bright reddish orange and filled with italian inspired ingredients, olives, garlic, mozzarella, basil, red wine vinegar, you get the gist. I'm not a major olive fan but I truly enjoyed the pasta. The sides paired so well with my sandwiches because, yes, there were two. Our picnic-ers got to enjoy a veritable playground of flavors in each dish and pair their side with their sandwich perfectly.
Recipe: Pasta Salad with Mozzarella, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives
3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 TBS oil from sun-dried tomatoes
• 1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon drained capers
• 1 garlic clove, minced
Mix in food processor, toss with hot noodles, let chill
• 1 pound fusilli pasta
• 12 ounces tomatoes, coarsely chopped
• 8 ounces fresh water-packed mozzarella cheese, drained, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
• 1/2 cup sliced Parmesan burgandy olives
Toss with pasta, season with salt and pepper, chill, serve at room temp.
Recipe: Potato and Pea Salad with Chive Aïoli
• 3 pounds small red-skinned new potatoes, unpeeled - boil 25 minutes - cool - chunk
• 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar - toss with potatoes
• 1 1/2 cups green peas - add
• 1 cup miracle whip light
• 5 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• 2 garlic cloves, pressed -- mix together then with potatoes
• Top with 1Tbs chives
Onto my dish, the main which consisted of two very different sandwiches. The first was such a classic combination of flavors; thinly sliced barbecued flank steak marinated in a well aged balsamic, fresh green arugula, garlic/chive mayo, soft and pungent St Agur blue cheese all spread on a thin ciabatta. The next sandwich was a mixture of dungeness crab, langostino, fresh dill, lemon juice, thinly minced shallot mixed with a thick rich mayo all placed atop one butter lettuce leaf and placed on a soft brioche sesame bun. One sandwich had earthy deep flavors, the other was light and fresh. Each was individually wrapped like little christmas presents in brown wax paper and chocolate brown raffia ribbon. Although both were extremely popular the steak won out. The classics are such for a reason I suspect.
Recipe: Classic Flank Steak Sandwich on Ciabatta
1 flank steak
6 Tablespoons good balsamic
2 Tablespoons good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
(place above ingredients in a bag or bowl and marinate overnight)
3/4 cup fresh baby arugula
1/2 cup St Agur blue cheese (or other soft blue cheese)
1/3 cup of homemade or other good mayo
3 cloves of fresh garlic, pressed
1 Tablespoon fresh chives minced
(mix the mayo, garlic and chives in a small bowl and mix well)
1 long thin ciabatta carefully sliced in half (I purchased mine from Avenue Bread here in Bellingham)
1. Barbecue flank steak. This is the technique I used to get tender meat with a great sear/crust (I had a little over a pound): Heat up grill on high (you want it to be very hot) my grill takes about 5 minutes to get really hot. Place steak on hot grill and sear one side for about 3-4 minutes (you should see good blackened grill marks when it's done) flip and sear other side for same amount of time. Reduce heat to medium/low and cook an additional 7-10 minutes. Remove steak from grill and allow to rest at least five minutes. Slice thinly at an angle. Viola! Perfect flank steak!
2. Slice and slather both sides of bread generously with mayo mixture
3. Place meat evenly along the bottom slice of bread
4. Crumble and spread cheese over the meat
5. Sprinkle fresh arugula over the top of the meat/cheese
6. Press top of bread over all of that and cut into servings. I got about eight with my ingredients.
7. Wrap in brown wax paper and secure with ribbon.
Recipe: ASITK's Version of a Lobster Roll
1 lb langostino
1/2 lb crab, cleaned (I used dungeness)
1/4 homemade or other good mayo
4 Tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons fresh dill finely chopped
2 Tablespoons minced shallot
1 clove of garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste
4 nice soft rolls or buns (I used a sesame from the Bread Farm in Edison, WA)
1. Mix first eight ingredients in a bowl.
2. Place one large leaf of butter lettuce on the bottom of your bun and scoop a generous helping of 'seafood salad' mixture into the lettuce.
3. Top with other half of the bun, wrap and secure with ribbon.
I would have to say, both of these recipes are an incredible picnic companion.
Well, here we are at the end, a very sweet end at that. I am kind of breath a sigh of relief. This was quite the post, no? If you're still with me, it's worth it. Trust me. The ever lovely Rachelle over at one of my favorite food blogs, Use The Good China, was in charge of dessert. Although it wasn't planned, by any means, with the tradition of this picnic thus far she brought not one, not two, but a variety of sweets for the group to nosh on. Two were homemade, the others were jars of peachy flavored candies to enjoy. Rachelle, inspired by a post over at Canille et Vanille decided to tote along gorgeous little peach and vanilla bean creme caramels in little glass jars. They looked utterly stunning. Oddly though, once we broke through the top, we found the interior to be like a sweetened peach milk, not the custard any of us, including Rachelle, were expecting. Now, it was still quite delicious, especially when dipped into with the giant homemade ginger cookies dusted in sugar crystals she also brought along. But, understandably, Rachelle was bummed by the creme caramel. It's always a bit frustrating when a dish doesn't go your way. However, it's really the only way to learn in the kitchen, something goes wrong and you find a way to fix it. Am I right? We all loved each of her desserts no matter, plus, they were the perfect little models for me don't you think? If you want a Rachelle's insight and recipes head on over to Use the Good China.
We had an incredible meal so I must reiterate that it's so nice to have a solid group forming that's consistently surprising and delicious. In a couple of weeks we have another summer inspired dinner, so be sure to check back for all the details!