I love getting calls from friends with questions regarding cooking and menu planning. The other day Deirdre text me a question I've gotten many times: "I'm having vegetarians to dinner, what should I make?!" Going Mexican is an easy solution--a bean burrito with roasted vegetables, avocado and all of the fixings, omitting cheese for any vegan guests. Any ethnic dish, like a vegetable curry, is a great alternative to the run-of-the-mill eggplant, portobello mushroom, or garden burger solution; I've heard many vegetarians admit to getting sick of these options. A couple of nights ago, we had a vegetarian couple to dinner and I came up with these grilled polenta pizzas. I made basic polenta and spread it into a 9x13 to chill in the fridge. For dinner, I cut my polenta into triangles, placed them on the grill, gave them a flip and loaded them up with my veggie toppings. A few minutes for the cheese to melt, and, voila, dinner is served. I also sauteed a few tofu 'croutons' for our salad: nice and crispy. I want to continue coming up with new vegetarian dishes to enjoy on 'Meatless Mondays' this fall!
I'm a real geek for activities: amusement parks, board games, the zoo, mini golf, progressive dinners, state fairs (my favorite!) etc. I drag Greg along for outings that would be more appropriate if we had children; we don't. I fantasize about more activity geared entertaining (e.g. gin and tonics after doubles tennis, hard cider and chili after pumpkin hunting and hay rides, and chicken parmesan for a Sopranos marathon). Again, Greg gets conned into many of these themed activity-meet-meal events but I'd like to expand this passion to include others (though I've learned not every one loves a trivia evening). Fishing is an activity plus meal outing that I am very much loving this summer and you get two parties in one: a picnic on the lake one night and then a trout feast the next.
So brilliant in theory: a picnic. Neatly packaged, thoughtfully selected edibles enjoyed in nature on a Ralph Lauren plaid throw. Barefoot Contessa and Martha Stewart always have beautiful photographs of luxurious picnics with pasta salad in chinese takeout containers and galvanized tubs filled with microbrews and sparkling lemonade on ice. But who carried the tub to the picnic site? Hauled all of the garbage home? In reality, picnics can be uncomfortable, sandy, and a lot of effort. (I want to love them, I really do!!) But I've discovered a picnic loop-hole. Picnics are great out on a boat while fishing! And they must be kept simple. So for our latest outing to Clear Lake, I made Italian sandwiches on crusty baguettes. They were fully loaded with heirloom tomatoes--green zebras, purple cherokees and brandy wines--fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, basil and salami. The only acutrament: salt and pepper kettle chips and a bottle of red.
By now I've made it pretty clear that I love being a hostess, as well as the evening's cook. But every once in awhile it's a treat to take a break from the kitchen and really get to be with the people. Such was the case for a 'Winemaker's Dinner' at our home in Sisters, OR. The chef from our favorite local restaurant, Jen's Garden, made the delicious food while Bergstrom and JK Carriere wineries did the pouring. So it was really fun to get to focus on the gift baskets and decor. I stole a bunch or Amy's tricks, new and old, to impress a whole new group of guests (recycling is the best!). The whole event was a very successful fundraiser for Friends of the Children and I was grateful to be a part. As excited as I was to do my very own iron-on menu/napkins, I pondered what Amy would've done with the evening's theme; I imagine some crocheting of corks into a table runner would've taken place, after all, she is a show-off!
My mom and I baked peach, blueberry and banana muffins for the gift baskets for the out-of-town guests. We included other bits for the following morning: tylenol (um, nine glasses of wine later), waters, local coffee, jam, and fudge (for midnight cravings), plus art work made by the children of FOTC. I stamped the gifts tags, 'For 8.13.10'...the next day. Next time I'd like to figure out how to have burgers delivered.
Josh Bergstrom and Jim Carriere poured terrific flights from their wineries, which complimented chef T.R. McCrystal's seasonal menu. A huge thank you to all three.
I stamped the place cards and slid them into corks fastened with a push pin.
Each place setting had its own lavender and rosemary bouquet.
I was pretty excited to do my own iron-on menu napkins and it was especially fun with five courses and wine pairings.
T.R.'s saffron panna cotta with dungeness crab, scallops and shrimp was my favorite course and deserves special mention. If I were Rachel Ray, I'd exclaim, 'Yum-O', but I'm not so I'll simply say, 'Delectable.'
And the ratatouille stuffed quail inspired me to start stuffing the little guys. Loved the presentation and they can be prepped ahead of time,which is always a good thing.
Watermelon and Mixed Greens with French Feta, Olives and Lime-Mint Vinaigrette
JK Carriere Glass White Pinor Noir 2009
Saffron and Seafood Panna Cotta with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis
Bergstrom Sigrid Reserve Chardonnay 2008
Grilled Summer Ratatouille and Rice Stuffed Quail over Braised Herbed Tomatoes
Bergstrom Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008
JK Carriere Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2007
Chilled Beef Tenderloin and Roasted Fingerling Potato Salad with Pinot Noir Syrup
JK Carriere Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2003
Belgian Chocolate and Hazelnut Torte with Fresh Oregon Berries
Farm to table may be all the rage, but I'm pretty into lake to table. Out on Clear Lake, as my family struggled through the emotional turmoil of being confined to a row boat, we were rewarded with catching our limits of jumping trout. We had enough of the fresh, flaky little guys to feed a house full of guests and the trout that my Aunt Di smoked were my favorite. I put the smoked trout on swiss chard cakes--a method my friend Erin taught me--and these cakes, which can be made with whatever vegetables are around, are the best go-to dinner. Topped with poached eggs, or simply served along mixed greens, they are my solution to 'I have nothing to eat'. See the method below because they really are amazing...thanks Erin!
Swiss Chard (or any vegetable you want) Cake
As taught to me by Erin
Chop and clean 3 leeks. Soften over medium heat in 2 T. butter or olive oil. In the meantime, clean 2-3 cups of swiss chard and cut into 1/2'' strips. Once the leeks are soft, add the chard and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Let cool a bit. In another bowl mix 2 eggs, 1/4 C. whole wheat flour, salt and pepper. Once chard mixture has cooled, add to eggs and flour. Drop into cast-iron pan and spread 2'' wide, 1/2'' thick. Cook like pancakes and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche.
Notes: Feel free to substitute onion and garlic for leeks and any leafy green or chopped vegetable for the chard. The vegetable mixture could be made and cooled in advance and then added to flour and eggs when ready to eat.
swiss chard cakes with smoked trout, sour cream and dill
smoked duck breast with a reduced cabernet, cherry and black pepper sauce