Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Dinner Party

As I mentioned in my last post, we had some friends over for a summer dinner party a couple of weekends ago. For once, I didn't really have much of a plan and let the Farmer's Market guide my menu. It turned out to be one of my favorite menus and just really fun to put together.

One thing I had decided was that I wanted to make a side dish with lobster. Since there were six people total for the dinner party I figured it best to not attempt a main course of lobster as to not break the bank; plus it's a bit of work to get the meat out of the shells. After boiling the two Maine lobsters and extracting the meat, I decided on a salad of butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, freshly cut corn off the cob and the lobster with a creamy tarragon dressing. You know when you're thinking of what to make and a dish just sort of comes to you instantly? This salad was like that and I just knew all of those components would work well together. Some fresh chives finished off the dish:

The main course was a variation on the many savory tarts I've made in the past. I used what has become my absolute favorite tart crust recipe (it is seriously a JOY to handle and roll out) and made a crème fraiche/egg yolk/cheese paste to spread (similar to the one Suzanne Goin uses in her savory tarts in her Lucques cookbook) on the dough.......

.......before topping that with sliced gruyere, different verities of heirloom tomatoes, grated parmesan and a good sprinkling of black pepper. I love this base which can be made with ricotta, sour crème, grated cheese, whatever- just spread it on your dough and top with anything from bacon to mushrooms to leeks to tomatoes, like I did here:

I did sprinkle the sliced tomatoes with sea salt and let them drain between two paper towels for about 20 minutes before arranging them onto the unbaked tart dough so that the water in them wouldn't make the tart soggy. It worked very well and helped concentrate the flavor of the tomatoes once they baked:

Initially I thought to do a zucchini or other type of summer squash as a second side dish, but to be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of either as they tend to be watery. Luckily I saw some gorgeous, multicolored carrots which I roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, then tossed with sliced avocado, red onion and a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, cumin, olive oil, agave nectar and lots of chopped cilantro:

Those of you who frequent Southern California farmers markets have probably seen the overabundance of big, juicy strawberries this summer- they are everywhere- so I picked up a bunch before figuring out what I was going to make. I'd purchased these really cute milk glasses at Anthropologie awhile ago and was inspired to make a vanilla bean panna cotta topped with the strawberries which I macerated in a bit of agave nectar and this amazing blackberry balsamic vinegar which I bought at Nicole's:

A cheese plate and some prosciutto finished off the light menu and we had a great time sipping rose and catching up in the back yard. I hadn't cooked for a group in awhile and it was like the shot in the arm I needed to get back in the kitchen. I love to cook, but when a menu comes together without recipes, based on inspiration gained from the local produce and ideas gained from years of cooking, it restores your faith in cooking, ha! I had as much fun cooking this as I did eating it and look forward to at least a couple more summer dinner parties before Autumn comes!

Pasadena Farmer's Market
Victory Park
Saturdays 8:30 AM- 1:00 PM


Delicious Coma said...

Yum! Everything looks amazing, especially that tart. I've been cooking tons of zucchini and summer squash ever since I learned the trick of salting them really well and letting them drain in a colander before cooking. (You can even squeeze out extra moisture with your hands before cooking.) It seasons them deeply, gets rid of excess water and also rids them of that vegetal bitterness, which really improves the taste.

Cafe Pasadena said...

These food blogs get me hungry. Keep it up!

betty said...

Wonderful,beautiful site-love the pictures -thanks for the great info!!!Betty

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