In case you haven't noticed, or in case I haven't said it enough, I'm really behind with my blogging. Case in point, the cooking clubs July dinner (yes, July, as in nearly two months ago). Considering we had our August dinner a week ago, and the fact that I want to share that with you in a few days I know I need to keep this post short and sweet. For the most part I am going to share with you what we ate. The one problem with our dinners is that we don't really exchange recipes. So aside from my own, and dishes that are fairly straightforward, or don't particularly need a recipe, I don't have much for you anyway. I've requested we share recipes after our dinners (partially because I'd love to recreate some of these dishes in my everyday eating life). That means, hopefully, in the coming months, I may actually have a full lineup of recipes for you when I put up these posts. Recently I've entertained the idea of starting an 'Around the Table' blog, even though both Rachelle over at Use the Good China and I both put up individual posts. You see, I'm biased, I believe our group is so unique, incredible, and delectable, I am starting to feel 'Around the Table' deserves it's own spotlight, you know? There are lots of food blogs out there, I likely don't have to tell you that. So many. 'Around the Table' seems like it might stand out from the crowd. Again, of course I think that, how could I not?
Enough babble, onto the July dinner.
The table setting was very simple. Barbecues should not be fussy in the least. So, I used a fun, barbecue-y oil cloth tablecloth, in a metallic silver. Copper chargers. White square plates. Rosanna 'Kings Road' salad plates. A very colorful and bright orange, green, yellow napkin with a vintage inspired bird print. Large merlot glasses for the sangria. Three tall cylindrical skinny vases flanked the middle of the table, in each one sat a large, vibrant yellow and brown sunflower.
I had the appetizer dish. I wanted to stay within the barbecue realm and felt the need to make something slightly retro. Chips and dip was just far too blasé. I liked the idea of it, chips and dip, it's quite iconic. Served at many a barbecue, family reunion, backyard fete, and superbowl soiree. Yet, I never, ever, eat chips and dip. I hate the options out there for dip, as I am never inspired to make a bowl of mostly sour cream or mayonnaise mixed with a packet of this, or snippets of that. That was until I witnessed the one and only Ina Garten whip up her famous 'pan fried onion dip', or, the moniker I've dubbed it, 'caramelized onion dip'. Still, as creamy, spicy, sweet and altogether fabulous this dip is, how could I serve my gourmet girls a bowl of dip and chips? I couldn't. Solution: make your own chips, and create tiny chip and dip bites, the chip and dip version of bruschetta. These dinners generally create an easy excuse for me to buy something, whether it be a new set of dishes, new glasses, another set of barware, a fun tablecloth, or the right pieces for decor. The barbecue offered me the opportunity to purchase a mandoline, something I've wanted, but had yet to splurge on. So, armed with my nifty new kitchen tool, I set myself up in the kitchen the afternoon of our barbecue, with a slew of potato options, from yukons, to purple, to sweet, I was set. I slathered each batch with olive oil, salt and pepper, then baked them in the oven for about 8-10 minutes on 350 F. I ran out of my little chip and dip canapes so quickly that I ended up plating a bowl of chips and dip for the girls. I don't really think it mattered to them how I served it, both were gone in a flash.
We washed our appetizers (and our dinners) down with Rachelle's incredible take on a classic summer drink; Sangria. Through the door she came with two giant buckets of Sangria. When I say buckets, I mean buckets, really, big ol' buckets. Two! Hmmm, I wondered what her intentions were with so much booze. After one glass it was apparent, those buckets were going to get slurped down rather quickly. Each was filled with a mixture of 'burgundy' wine, brandy, and a slew of fresh summer fruits, deep rouge cherries, bright juicy peaches, slices of tangy lemon and lime. She dipped the rims of glasses in lime juice, and dusted the wet edges in fine sugar. Into the glass went two large handfuls of ice, a generous amount of sangria, which was all topped off with a splash of sparkling water.
We set the 'sangria bar' up on one of my antique carts in the backyard. From here, the girls could ice, dip, sugar and pour their own drinks throughout then night.
Absolutely beautiful, no? The fruit really soaked up all of the brandy. My favorite of the bunch were the cherries, they were sweet but the alcohol gave the cherries a musky, floral flavor. Incredible! For a recipe, and Rachelles thoughts visit Use the Good China .
Laurel presented us with an out of this world green salad. So, so, simple. So, so delicious. The salad consisted of watercress, chunks of perfectly ripened avocado, crumbles of crunchy bacon, lemon, olive oil, and finally seasoned with salt and pepper. The most flavorful are often the least complicated. I loved this dish so much, I've thrust it into my weeknight dinner rotation.
Annika is our newest member. I won't lie, it's always a bit nerve racking when a newbie attends her 'virgin' dinner. Will they fit in with the rest of the group? More importantly, will they bring it in the kitchen? For the most part, our girls, and their dishes are mind blowing. Better than a five course meal, as the dishes are served, I am constantly in awe and inspired by the ladies in this group. I'm extremely happy to report, Annika did not disappoint. In fact, she shone. Cucumber salad may sound boring to some, and trust me, I've had my fair share of questionable cucumber salad, but Annika hit it out of the park. I may be wrong here, but she paired her cucumber with something that I've never seen classically paired with it, radishes. This dish was definitely a labor of love, and a lot of tasting. Essentially, the salad consisted of cool chunks of cucumber, thinly sliced radishes, slivers of orange segments, diced red onion, and a sprinkle of toasted sesame flat leaf parsley. Where I lost Annika was in the dressing, this part is what I was referring to as the 'labor of love'. It sounds as though she combined half of her pantry in a bowl, tasted, adjusted, added, tasted, adjusted. . . you get the idea? Well, sort of. If I remember correctly it was a combo of soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and probably a million other things I'm leaving out. A true artist in the kitchen cooks this way though, recipes be damed!
Here, is the leftover dressing in the bottom of my bowl. Perhaps, if you've got magic eyes, you'll be able to discern the secret ingredients collected in the bottom of this bowl.
I have a feeling I won't be able to stop gushing about our dinners. I am constantly surprised, and delighted by the dishes. Case in point, I've been converted. I have never liked cornbread or cornbread type products. It's just not my thing. I liked the flavor alright I suppose, I just didn't much care for the texture, it's grainy crumb got old after a while. Even the best of the cornbreads out there left me feeling as though I'd eaten a terribly dry, crumbly bread confection. Little did I realize, cornbread doesn't have to be dry or grainy. Laurels corn muffins had me over the moon. They were so incredibly moist. They almost melted away in your mouth. And sweet! So, perfectly sweet. Fresh corn kernels strewn throughout imparted the right amount of sweetness. She baked them in shallow ramekins giving them the cutest muffin top quality, and served them with two spreads. One cool, creamy sour cream and chive. The other rich butter paired with honey and cayenne pepper. I couldn't pick just one to slather on my muffin, so I chose both. One bit of spicy sweet, the other of cool and creamy. Just the right balance, on the most heavenly of corn breads.
Sadly, we lost a member in July. Laura. She decided it was time for her to move on. She set sail, well, more likely packed up the car and headed for the freeway, headed down to Portland to live with her sister. She will be missed. Boy, did she leave with a bang. For our entree Laura kept the theme of the night which seemed to be gourmet simplicity. She toted along large chunks of fresh halibut dressed with thinly sliced lemon and fresh sprigs of dill, which she threw on the grill and barbecued slowly.
Once served hot off the grill we slathered the fish with chunks of herbed garlic compound butter. As the fish cooled, the butter melted and pooled around the fish, creating the creamiest sauce to dip the fresh fish into. Doesn't it just look mouthwatering? Well, it was. Laura left us with one of the best entree's we've had.
Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of dessert. It got so dark by the time we were finished with our meal, and ready for dessert, that there was no way I was able to take a decent picture of it in the backyard. Alexis provided dessert which was grilled juicy nectarines, with homemade mascarpone mixed with honey and candied walnuts. Yes, I said homemade mascarpone. Our little miss Alexis has been on quite the homemade cheese kick lately. You'll see what I mean soon!
I can't tell you how amazing being a part of a gourmet group is. Once a month I am treated to a five course meal, with drinks, that blow most high end restaurants out of the water, for the price of one dish. Not only that, I get to spend hours chatting with a group of intelligent, kind, funny women.