Friday, July 6, 2012

Two Summer Party Menus

Two parties in two days, and wedding tomorrow! That's my kind of pace (truly! Okay, well at least I can handle it for about three days and then I'll need a rest for one day before diving in again).

Last night, I hosted the Sturgeon Ladies' Literary Society (that's a fancy way of saying my neighbourhood bookclub) meeting. We always put on a bit of a spread, although it's after dinner, so not a huge meal. I relied heavily on Mark Bittman's Food Matters cookbook (if I haven't convinced anyone to buy it yet, then you must not be paying attention. There are 500 recipes, so even though I use it all the time, I have barely even scratched the surface! And there are many more recipes I want to try) for this summer-themed menu. Everything was light and delicious (except for the quinoa cake, which was delicious, but not-so-light) and gluten free.

Party #1 Menu: After Dinner Summer Snack Buffet for the Bookclub

Radishes with Olive Oil and Sea Salt (that simple. Just serve radishes next to a small dish of olive oil and coarse sea salt. Barely a recipe, but I got the idea from Mark Bittman's book)
Quick-Pickled Watermelon with Feta (I'm new to pickling melon, but I definitely liked the results)
Lentil "Caviar" with All the Trimmings (recipe below)
Olives, Cucumbers and Tuna, Mediterranean Style (just a toss of olives, cucumbers, tuna, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, garlic, parsley and chile flakes)
Homemade goat cheese with herbs de Provence
Assorted crackers
Fresh strawberries and watermelon
Quinoa chocolate mini-cupcakes, inspired by the chocolate cake recipe in Quinoa 365

I was feeling kind of ambivalent about the lentil caviar when I made it the day before. It just didn't seem to be all that interesting. But it was the thing that the ladies liked best (except for maybe the cupcakes). They asked for the recipe so they could make it themselves.

Here it is:

Lentil "Caviar" with All the Trimmings

8 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) Le Puy or other dark green or black lentils (I used beluga lentils from Hestia Organics at the Farmers' Market)
2 T. vegetable oil
1 large shallot or small onion
1/4 c. dried dulse, arame, or hijiki
1 c. sake, brewed green tea or water (I used jasmine tea)
2 T. mirin or honey (I used mirin)
Salt and pepper
8 slices whole grain bread or crackers for serving
1/2 c. capers or chopped cornichons, for garnish, optional
1/2 c. chopped red onion, for garnish, optional
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped, for garnish, optional
1/2 c. mayonnaise, sour cream, or creme fraiche for garnish, optional (I used sour cream)

Put lentils in a pot and cover with cold water by 2-3 inches. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat so that the lentils bubble gently. Partially cover and cok, stirring occasionally, checking hte lentils for doneness every 10-15 minutes. When the lentils are tender but not falling apart, drain them.

Put the oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. When it's hot, add the shallot and sea greens and cook, stirring constantly, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the sake and miring. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and let the mixture bubble away until it reduces and thickens to a thin syrup, 5-7 minutes. Strain.

Pour the glaze over the lentils and toss gently to coat; taste and adjust seasoning. Chill for at least 30 minutes or up to a few days (I chilled overnight). Toast the breatd if you're using and cut each slice diagonally into 4 toast points. Serve with the toast points or crackers, along with any garnishes you like.

Party #2 Menu: Impromptu Vietnamese Fresh Roll Feast, or, What Would I Do Without the Internet?

The next party had a bit of a roundabout development. Earlier in the week I stopped at the Saskatoon Asian Market to get seaweed to make the lentil caviar. I couldn't just buy the one thing, and had to wander around to see what else they had of interest. What else they had was beautifully fresh bean sprouts, the cutest little mini baby bok choy, some Chinese sausage, which I bought without knowing what I was going to do with it, and a couple kinds of noodles.

When I got home, I started planning what to make with my ingredients, and thought to myself, it's hot out, and I have some greens in the garden...maybe I should make salad rolls. I wonder if there are Vietnamese salad rolls that call for Chinese sausage? Well, if you Google "Vietnamese salad roll Chinese Sausage", you will find that the answer is yes! How easy is that, and how often do I have two seemingly unrelated ingredients that I Google to come up with an amazing concoction? Almost daily. If you can conceive the combination, chances are someone else has, too, has blogged about it, and the recipe is ready and waiting.

So here is my impromptu Vietnamese Fresh Roll Feast menu, which we enjoyed with good long-time friends and their daughter. The kids mostly ate the sausage, but generally seemed to enjoy the rolls, too. Hey, this menu is almost gluten-free, too...the sausage might be questionable...

Pre-dinner cocktail (served alongside leftover lentil caviar and goat cheese on crackers): Plum wine tonic (1 part plum wine, 2 parts tonic water, and a squeeze of lime over ice)

Our friends brought a bottle of Cava, sparkling Spanish wine, which I would match with anything and drink every day if I could. Delicious!

Boa Bia, Chinese Sausage Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce (thanks to The Ravenous Couple for the recipe)
Mark Bittman's Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce (I skipped the sauce and just used the ingredient list as a guideline: lettuce, cilantro, basil, julienne cucumber, bean sprouts, shrimp)
Grilled baby bok choy with Asian marinade, inspired by Dad Cooks Dinner (this was a sleeper hit. They were a little bitter, a little sour, smoky, savoury, just a bit crunchy, and totally delicious. My baby bok choy were really tiny, so I didn't bother cutting them in half, just tossed them in the marinade and 'stir-fried' them in a grill basket).
Quinoa cupcake ice cream sandwiches (and the last of the Taylor Fladgate 20 year old tawny that I was keeping in the fridge)

I am replete. Tomorrow I take a break from cooking (except for making breakfast from the leftovers of Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, basil, carrots, and bean sprouts. Can you say "egg foo young"?) and attending my cousin's wedding. Then I'll be cooking something for my sister and her family who will be staying with us after the wedding, and thinking ahead to Tuesday when I host some local food writers for a little get-together.

I love summer entertaining. Who am I kidding? I love entertaining, period.

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