"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Le Gourmet Club

I know I'm verging into pathetic suburban key party territory here, but a few other couples we are friends with in the neighborhood also enjoy cooking and eating, and so we've decided to emulate our parents and form a so-called Gourmet Club, through which we will take turns hosting dinner parties that all of us will contribute to. Whoever hosts gets to pick the theme and assign courses. We expect that most of these will be grown-up affairs, but figure that a few could be made kid-friendly, since we all have kids ranging from age 3 to age 13, who get along.

Figuring that since my dining room and kitchen are tight to host 8 people (though doable), we volunteered to host the first party at the end of June, so that we can use the back deck and yard. I chose a Moroccan/North African theme, partly because there are a number of recipes I want to try, and partly because I think the summer outdoor setting will be just right. I'm hoping for a very casual, sensual kind of thing, lots of finger food, paper lanterns, wine in stemless glasses, etc.

I'm considering main courses of a slow-roasted, shredded lamb with mint and pomegranate that Nigella does, served with a couscous, maybe with olives and preserved lemon, and a vegetable tagine. We'll need a selection of salads and hors d'oeuvres, and I'd like to do a rose-flavored ice cream as part of the dessert (at my birthday dinner last year, we were served a rose ice cream with raspberry sorbet and lychees that was ambrosial). I'd love to hear ideas if anyone has any.

Other themes we kicked around, besides the obvious national cuisines: upscale barbecue/picnic, ancient Rome/Greece, retro dinner party using no cookbooks from after 1960 (Beef Wellington? rumaki?), tapas, smoking, all desserts.... Would also love ideas.

And of course we have all agreed that an annual field trip to NYC to a restaurant we all want to try is a necessity.

Wish us luck!

Kitchen Garden 2009

I definitely always have eyes bigger than my stomach for gardening. I knew absolutely nothing about gardening when we bought our house 5 summers ago, but I had visions of growing my own herbs and produce. I can't bear to actually sit down and read a book about soil quality and fertilizers and other dry technical matters, so my approach has been of the trial-and-error, lazy organic variety. Fortunately, though pretty it ain't, I've managed to have lots of success with my experiments, despite the fact that by early August I tend to just pretend I don't see the weeds and the gone-to-flower vegetables.

My designated patches are pretty small, are limited in where I can get full sun, and prone to attracting weeds, but though I seem unable to resist overplanting, I get by. I've tried to limit myself to herbs and tomatoes only, but I have allowed myself a few cucumber plants (I like to have a cuke around for a quick cucumber salad), red leaf lettuce, some hot peppers, a couple of broccoli plants (one of the only vegetables Young Master Gateau will eat), and some radishes because they are so easy and fast to grow, and thus good near-instant gratification for kids. There also appear to be a few carrots and beets from last year.

The herbs this year include my monster tarragon plants, oregano, chives, mint, cilantro, basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, and lavender. Nothing particularly exotic, but all get steady play through the season. I have some nasturtiums for decorating salads, and Y.M.G., on a Roman Empire kick, has asked for a bay plant so he can make laurel wreaths.

As for tomatoes, I'm going for a rainbow of smaller heirloom varieties -- Arkansas travelers (red), Sungold and Yellow Pear, Green Zebra, and Black Cherry (a strange purple-green). These plants tend to grow out of control and produce more than I can eat, so I'm going to try to jump on the pickling/canning bandwagon and see whether I can come up with some good preserves, chutneys, etc. At worse, I can turn them into some weird colored but tasty sauce and freeze it.

Tomight we should have the first lettuce and radish salad!