Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Long Weekend Eats and Summer Produce

I haven't really cooked in a while, so I was determine to get a serious fix on Canada Day. Luckily, a large group of long-time good friends were in the city with minimal plans, so with a few phone calls, we made plans to spend as much time as possible together. That involved a BBQ at a friends' house on Saturday, and I arranged for everyone to come to our place on Monday.

As I took in the state of my house on Monday morning shortly before my guests would arrive, I realized something about how I entertain. Some people talk themselves out of entertaining by considering it, and then realizing how much cleaning up they'd have to do to allow people in their house. In my case, I make the invitation regardless of the shameful state of my dwelling, then suddenly realize I have some cleaning up to do on top of the aggressive cooking schedule I've set for myself.

The house wasn't perfect when our friends arrived, but it was substantially worse for wear once the eight children under the age of five had spent five minutes in it. We're all parents of young children. Our houses don't ever stay clean for long.

This is the season of best laid plans going awry, what with fresh produce coming on line at unexpected times. A trip to the Saturday Farmers' Market, for example, got me loaded up with new potatoes and fresh dill. I had had a plan to use 'tapas' as a theme, but those new potatoes were just too good to pass up.

My original plan for tapas was inspired by some radishes I had picked up at the Regina Farmers' Market earlier in the week. I have a favourite, simple recipe of thickly buttered bread, sliced radishes, and chopped anchovies that I was keen to repeat. And from there, the fresh produce kind of shaped my plans. Fresh tomatoes would become a Caprese salad, and an eggplant had found its way into my bag, and I needed to do something with that. Dessert would be nothing more than fresh cherries, strawberries and blueberries.

The original plan went something like this:
• Chorizo & gigantes beans with basil
• Butter/radishes/anchovies on fresh bread
• Marinated olives and cheese
• Honey and paprika chicken wings (from a new tapas cookbook, 500 Tapas)
• Melon and prosciutto
• Caprese salad
• Roasted eggplant
• Grilled steak with blue cheese sauce

Things didn't quite turn out as planned; when I started to dig for meat in my freezer (at midnight, the day before the party), I discovered that all the cuts of meat that would work for a steak tapa were being stored in my inlaws' freezer. I did, however, have two large packages of short ribs, and on a whim, I decided to braise them in red wine. Since they were frozen solid 12 hours before the guests were going to arrive, I took a risk and threw them in the slow cooker. I didn't quite follow the recipe as listed, just used some of my good beef demi-glace, Spanish tempranillo (to keep with the theme) and the classic mirepoix plus thyme and a bay leaf.

While I was digging in my freezer, I also unearthed one last bag of my mom's broad beans and a bag of frozen tomatoes. I took those to thaw as well. Then I grabbed a couple of small containers of my homemade salsa from the freezer for good measure.

The goal of the day was to get some things underway for shortly after people arrived. Then I planned to cook for a few hours and set things out on the table as they were ready.

My day went something like this:

Midnight the night before:
Pull out chicken, ground pork and other ingredients to thaw
Mix rib ingredients in the slow cooker and turn it on low
Rinse and soak gigantes beans
Select some wine to chill in the fridge

Marinate chicken (with 9 T. honey, 1 T. sweet smoked paprika, 2 cloves garlic, salt and pepper)
Mix chorizo using this recipe
Cook beans
Send hubbie to check fuel on the BBQ.
Marinate olives/cheese (in a concoction of my own making: olive oil, fresh rosemary and lemon time, and lemon slices)
At the last minute, I discovered some thawed previously frozen berries in the fridge, as well as some leftover coconut milk. These got blended together with some coconut sugar to make frozen fruit pops for the kids (an impressive result, considering how I literally threw them together. I made them thinking, "kids will eat anything frozen on a stick." But these turned out really well! I like them, too. The lesson is: coconut milk and fruit make killer popsicles.)
Remove ribs from cooking liquid, puree liquid, and turn slow cooker on high to thicken sauce

I followed my family down to the spray park to meet our friends and play for a while.

Came back home and assembled fruit and put out chips and salsa and marinated olives for people to snack on while I got the BBQ fired up.
Cook chicken wings (on my cast iron griddle on the BBQ, in order to keep the heat down in the house)
Make Caprese salad using mini bocconcinis and thawed frozen basil cubes from last year's garden (my basil plants are still too small to use them)
Start cooking the chorizo, tossing with gigantes beans and basil (on the outdoor gas burner on our BBQ)
Put new potatoes on to boil; when they're cooked, toss them with butter and dill and set them out as is

Assemble butter/radish/anchovy toasts
Decide that the beef ribs are good as is (I had considered charring them on the grill, but ran out of time and energy), slice, top with sauce, and serve

Get around to prepping melon and prosciutto, after sitting for a while and having a glass of rosé
Peel fava beans, chop some garlic, and throw together in a pan with tomatoes and a good glug of olive oil

That was the last dish. I loved being able to just cook and throw dishes with three or four ingredients on the table and watch everyone enjoy them. Good ingredients just make good food, simple as that. Our last guests stayed until around 6pm, and we just grazed on the food all day.

I had a meal plan for the few days I'm around this week, but that got thrown by the wayside when I saw what I had for leftovers (not huge amounts, but definitely things I don't want to waste), alongside fresh tortillas from the Farmers' Market. For dinner tonight, we had a build your own soft taco night, with the following fillings:
• Braised ribs and roasted sweet potato salad
• Fava beans with tomatoes and goat cheese
• Chorizo, gigantes beans, chipotle salsa, feta cheese and fresh garden greens

I have been trying to find time to make some rhubarb and grapefruit jam this year, and I may run out of time again—just as I was thinking I might find time this week, I was connected with someone with a glut of garlic scapes. Now instead of jam, in my minimal spare time, I'll be making garlic scape pesto. Not that I'm complaining. I love this time of year and the impromptu gifts of fresh food that arrive on my doorstep. I just have to remind myself to go with the flow, and to not over-plan.

My leftover potatoes from Monday will be fried up for supper tomorrow night, tossed with some of those garlic scapes, and I'll be taking some of them with me for our annual trail ride—garlic scapes cooked over an open fire may become my new favourite thing!

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